New Greenhouse Gas Discovered That Is 7,100 Times Worse than CO2

This synthetic chemical could be another threat for the climate.

Photo Credit: AFP

With a name like perfluorotributylamine, the latest greenhouse gas to be discovered is a tongue twister. But you should learn how to say it, as this synthetic chemical could mean dangerous business for the climate.

Perfluorotributylamine (or PFTBA) is an artificial compound commonly used since the 1950’s in electrical equipment and heat transfer agents. According to a recent study in the scientific journalGeophysical Research Letters, PFTBA has a significantly higher capacity to capture solar radiation than carbon dioxide. How significant? PFTBA is about 7,100 times more effective than CO2 at heating the globe over a 100-year span.

"We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date," Angela Hong, a Toronto based co-author of the report,told The Guardian.

Furthermore, the molecule can stay in the atmosphere for quite a long time – about 500 years. This longevity greatly exceeds CO2, which is constantly being cycled back into organic material through ecological processes (although not nearly as quickly as it is emitted by industrial sources).

But don’t panic yet. Based on measurements taken in Toronto, the gas is 0.18 parts per trillion in the atmosphere. When compared to carbon dioxide levels – now at 400 parts per million – that is a tiny contribution to global temperature rise.

"From a climate change perspective, individually, PFTBA's atmospheric concentration does not significantly alert the phenomenon of climate change," Hong said. "Still the biggest culprit is CO2from fossil fuel emissions."

The researchers note that CO2 is still the main driver of global warming, and that we shouldn’t lose our focus on curbing those emissions. According the Environmental Protection Agency, CO2emission in the US alone accounts for approximately 84 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, which is then followed by methane (9 percent), nitrous oxide (5 percent), and fluorinated gases (2 percent). While PFTBA is not a major contributor to warming at this point, the impact could be terrible were its levels to rise.

The new study underscores another concern: Namely, no one is quite sure how many unknown greenhouse gases are out there. Many industrial compounds aren’t regulated, and quite often data on chemicals is lacking, or protected as industry secrets.

"PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced, but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission," Hong said. "It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy."

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