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article imageFlat Screens Emit Greenhouse Gas

By Bob Ewing     Aug 14, 2008 in Environment
A chemical used in the manufacturing of flat-screen televisions could rival some of the world’s most potent greenhouse gases in its harmful effects on the environment.
Now, in addition to worrying about becoming obese and having your brain melt while kicking back in front of your flat screen TV, you have to consider the effect on the environment of one of the chemicals used to produce that flat screen.
A study published in Geophysical Research Letters details a chemical used in the manufacturing of flat-screen televisions. This chemical could rival some of the world’s most potent greenhouse gases in its harmful effects on the environment.
The chemical in question is nitrogen triflouride, or NF3 which is used to produce flat-panel display screens. The use of NF3 has increased over the past decade to meet the rising demand for consumer electronics like liquid crystal display (LCD) TVs.
Global production of NF3 now outstrips the 2005 emissions of synthetically produced greenhouse gases, such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), the report found.
“NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations’ emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants,” write Michael Prather and Juno Hsu, the study’s authors.
NF3 is referred to as the “missing greenhouse gas” because it’s not covered under the Kyoto Protocol, when the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change adopted the treaty in 1997; NF3 was produced only in small quantities, primarily for rocket fuel and lasers.
The Kyoto Protocol was based on data from 1995, and covers carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, the three major greenhouse gases attributed to human activities. NF3’s impact on global warming did not appear on the scene the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The researchers have estimated some 4,000 tons of NF3 will be produced this year and that the amount could double by 2010 if companies like DuPont and Mitsui Chemicals expand production.
Air Products is the largest NF3 producer and last November it announced that it would ramp up its production in the United States and Asia.
Global shipments of LCD TVs are expected to grow from about 100 million units in 2008 to almost 194 million units in 2012, according to market research firm iSuppli, which attributes that growth to falling prices and an increased demand for the high-definition display format.
Kert Davies is the research director at Greenpeace International. Davies is concerned that the switch from analog to digital television next February will catalyze an uptick in electronic waste as people discard their old TVs and simultaneously create a purchasing bubble for flat-panel TVs.
“Now that we’re aware of global warming, we should not do anything to exacerbate it,” Davies says.
“For any of these manufacturing processes, there is also a safer alternative and that includes climate safety.”
At a recent G-8 summit in Japan, President Bush and other leaders pledged to halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. However, many are unhappy with this pledge and groups, such as the National Resources Defense Council and the Sierra Club, say the pledge is vague and doesn’t go far enough because no targets were set for the next decade. And a lot can happen in 10 years.
Despite the increased production of NF3 over the past decade, documentation of its abundance in the atmosphere does not exist. It is essential to record the impact of NF3 and the list of greenhouse gases covered by Kyoto must be expanded during the second commitment period for the agreement, which is slated to begin in 2012.
“NF3 triggers the radar that there may be other surprises coming in global warming,” says Davies. “We must be vigilant about new industrial gases that contribute.”
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