A greenhouse gas 7,100 times more harmful than CO2 discovered

It is a manmade chemical used in electronic equipment industry

By Rahul Laroya
Published: Tuesday 24 December 2013

Scientists from University of Toronto claim to have discovered a greenhouse gas that is 7,100 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2).

“Perfluorotributylamine or PFTBA stays in the atmosphere for a very long time and has a very high radiative efficiency making it a potentially high global warming gas,” says Angela Hong, one of the lead-supervising scientists at the university. “Calculated over a 100-year timeframe, a single molecule of PFTBA has the equivalent climate impact as 7,100 molecules of CO2,” says Hong.

Radiative efficiency describes how effective a molecule of a gas is at preventing long-wave radiation from escaping back into space. The higher the radiative efficiency, the greater that molecule can influence climate. This value is then multiplied by its atmospheric concentration in order to determine the total climate impact of a substance.

Although there is no historical documentation of PFTBA, its approximate concentration in the atmosphere has been found to be around 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto region, where the study was conducted. CO2, the most prominent greenhouse gas, in comparison has concentrations of around 400 parts per million globally. However, what makes PFTBA potentially harmful is the high radiative efficiency of the compound in the atmosphere.

Unlike CO2, which can be absorbed by ocean and land sinks, PFTBA cannot be destroyed by any natural processes and can remain in the atmosphere for around 500 years. Although CO2 is still the major contributor to global warming, molecule to molecule PFTBA poses a much larger threat. Currently, there are no policies, global or otherwise, in place to regulate the amount of PFTBA in the atmosphere.

PFTBA is a manmade chemical used for various applications in electronic equipment, electronic testing and as a heat transfer agent since the mid 20th century.

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