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Other Greenhouse Gases
Climate change and carbon dioxide have certainly raised awareness over the past year, but there are other gases that contribute to global warming too – some of which can trap more for much longer than CO2. What are these gases, what is their impact and what are their sources?
“Anthropogenic” may be a term you see a lot now when boffins talk about global warming and greenhouse gases. Anthropogenic simply means that it originates from human activities, as opposed to those that occur in the natural world.
(GWP) Global warming potential
This is another term you may see when discussing greenhouse gases: GWP.
Since carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas, but the one of main concern today, other gases that can contribute to global warming are compared. Gases also have different lifetimes, so GWP is the ratio of heat trapped by one unit of greenhouse gas compared to one unit of CO2 over a given period of time.
The hidden danger
Some of the following gases are not part of the Kyoto Protocol, so there is no need to report their production. The danger is that any inroads made on reportable gases could lead to a false sense of security while being eroded by some of these other compounds.
Other greenhouse gases
Methane is a natural gas, but the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that 60% of global methane emissions come from anthropogenic activities including:
– Production of fossil fuels
– Cultivation of crops such as rice
– Clearing of forests
Livestock are known to produce methane, especially cattle. This is part of the reason why reducing meat in your diet is beneficial for the environment. Methane from animals is the result of bacteria acting on the food consumed.
Some humans also emit methane in limited amounts. I don’t think I need to explain this, but contrary to popular belief, only about a third of us emit methane when, you know, and it’s a very small amount.
All kidding aside, methane is a potent greenhouse gas. Although it has a shorter atmospheric lifetime than carbon dioxide, in its first 20 years it has a GWP (see definition above) of 62, which is 62 times the heat-trapping capacity of CO2. And here’s the double whammy: methane breaks down into water and… CO2 (carbon dioxide). It’s the gas that keeps on giving.
Compared to carbon dioxide and methane, human-related emissions of nitrous oxide are quite small, but this greenhouse gas has a GWP of 296 over *100* years.
Sources of anthropogenic emissions include:
– Exhaust from cars, trucks, etc.
– Production of electricity with coal
– Agricultural fertilizers
– Industrial production of adipic acid and nitric acid
Therefore, to reduce nitrous oxide emissions, we need to drive less and use less electricity (and switch to greener alternatives). We should also look for fruits and vegetables that have been grown in organic farms; better yet, we should get back to the old habit of having our own gardens!
Nitrogen trifluoride (NF3)
Production of nitrogen trifluoride so far in 2008 is around 4,000 tonnes and is expected to double next year. It may not sound like much, but NF3 has 17,000 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. To date, no studies have been conducted to determine the level of NF3 in the atmosphere. Because it is not covered by the Kyoto Protocol as a reportable gas, NF3 is one of the compounds that threatens to bite deeply into any improvements in other greenhouse gas reduction efforts.
Nitrogen trifluoride is used in the manufacture of LCD and plasma screens.
CFC-12 is a type of chlorofluorocarbon, more precisely dichlorodifluoromethane, which is not found in nature. It is an artificially produced greenhouse gas that was widely used as a refrigerant in refrigerators and air conditioners and was generally sold under the brand name Freon-12. Its manufacture was discontinued in 1995 after it was found to cause terrible damage to the ozone layer. While it has been discontinued, be careful with old appliances, such as refrigerators, which may still contain Freon gas. Call your local waste disposal authority for advice on how to dispose of it.
Not only is it bad for the ozone layer, but HCFC-22 has a 100+ year GWP of 10600!
HCFC-22 is a hydrochlorofluorocarbon, also known as chlorodifluoromethane or R22. It was also sold under a Freon brand: Freon-22. It has been used primarily in air conditioning applications, but is also being phased out due to environmental concerns, including its impact as a greenhouse gas. Air conditioner manufacturers will no longer be able to produce R22 equipment from 2010. If you are buying a new or second-hand air conditioning system, check that it does not use this gas.
HCFC-22 has a GWP of over 100 years of 1700.
Tetrafluoromethane is another man-made compound: no natural sources have been found. Its main source is mainly as by-products of aluminum and magnesium smelting, but it is also used as a coolant, in the manufacture of circuit boards and some insulating materials. Also found in some fabric and carpet stain protectors. Once released into the atmosphere, its greenhouse effect is basically irreversible, so recycle those aluminum cans and avoid using stain guards if possible. I’ve also read that tetrafluoromethane is used in some pizza boxes to keep the pizza from sticking to the cardboard, which is scary.
Tetrafluoromethane is a greenhouse gas with an atmospheric lifetime of an astonishing 50,000 years and a GWP of over 100 years of 5700!
Sulfur hexafluoride is used as an insulator in switches and other electrical hardware and is also a byproduct of the creation of magnesium. It is a greenhouse gas with a GWP of 22,200 times that of CO2 over a period of 100 years. Demand for die-cast magnesium parts from the automotive industry is responsible for a significant increase in emissions. Ironically, the auto industry wants more magnesium-based components because they are lighter and therefore contribute to better fuel economy.
Carbon dioxide gets a pretty bad rap when it comes to greenhouse gases, and rightfully so, but it’s certainly not the only culprit causing our climate to change due to global warming. It is also important to remember that CO2 plays a crucial role in the ecosystem. Without it, plants would die and most life on the planet would follow suit. Plants need carbon dioxide in combination with light and water to create organic material. The problem is the extreme level of CO2 we are producing and there are not enough plants on the planet to cope with it. Other natural “carbon sinks,” like our oceans, are quickly becoming saturated with the stuff, to the point where some are turning acidic.
But apart from carbon dioxide, awareness of other greenhouse gases like the ones above can help give us the extra push to green our lives where we can and ask the companies we buy from to do the same to minimize the amount of damage we cause. our fragile atmosphere. It’s pretty scary to think that the products we buy today could still have an atmospheric impact tens of thousands of years from now.
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