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Newly Discovered Greenhouse Gas Is 7,100 Times Powerful Than CO2

A new greenhouse gas that is 7,100 times powerful than carbon dioxide (CO2) at global warming has been discovered by researchers in Toronto. The newly discovered gas, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), has been used in electrical industry since the mid-20th century. This study has been published on Geophysical Research Letters.

This chemical doesn’t occur naturally, but it breaks all records for potential impacts on the climate, noted the researchers at the Department of Chemistry, University of Toronto. “We believe that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere so far,” said Angela Hong, the first author of the paper.

 PFTBA in Toronto

Haze over the CN Tower and downtown Toronto. Researchers have found a new greenhouse gas called PFTBA. *Image source: Andrew Francis Wallace/Getty Images

The study discovered that over a 100-year time span, the global warming potential (GWP) is 7,100 times more powerful than CO2. The PFTBA concentrations in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion (ppt) in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million (ppm) for CO2. Thus, PFTBA doesn’t in any way displace the combustion of fossil fuels such as coal and oil as the main drivers of climate change.

Dr. Drew Shindell, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said:” This is a warning that this gas can have a very large impact on climate change – if there were a lot of it. We don’t need to worry about it at present since there is not a lot of it now, but we need to make sure it does not grow and become a large contributor to global warming.” He pointed out that there are a number of recent studies drawing attention to other potential, newly discovered greenhouse gases like PFTBA. These gasses have a lot of warming potential in each molecule but are not yet prevalent in the atmosphere. Such researches were a warming against increasing uses of such compounds without first understanding their impact on the climate change.

 “From a climate change perspective, PFTBA’s atmospheric concentration doesn’t significantly alter the current situation and CO2 from fossil fuel emissions is still the biggest culprit for climate change.” Hong said. However, PFTBA is a long-lived gas – The Toronto researchers estimated that PFTBA can remain in the atmosphere for around 500 years. Carbon dioxide can be taken up by forests and oceans, but unfortunately, there are no known natural “sinks” or Earth can absorb it.

 PFTBA chemical structure

PFTBA’s chemical structure. *Image source:chemistry.about.com

 “It is much less than carbon dioxide, but most importantly, each of its molecule is very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth,” She said. “Each individual molecule is able to potentially influence the climate and it also has a long-standing effect due to its long lifetime.”

PFTBA has been used since the mid-20th century for multiple applications in electrical equipment like capacitors and transistors. The researchers said that it remained unclear how widespread its use was today. PFTBA belongs to an entire class of chemicals used in industry whose effect on the atmosphere is unknown.

 “PFTBA is just an example of an industrial chemical that is generated but there are no policies to control its production, use and emission and it is not being regulated by any type of climate policy.” Hong noted that the discovery of PFTBA and its global warming potential raises questions about the climate impacts of other chemicals used in industry.

Source The Guardian.