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Earth Science

Newly Discovered Greenhouse Gas Is 7,000 Times More Powerful Than CO2 216

Posted by timothy
from the do-dilute-it-with-water dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Suzanne Goldenberg writes at The Guardian that researchers at the University of Toronto's department of chemistry have identified a newly discovered greenhouse gas, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), in use by the electrical industry since the mid-20th century, that is 7,000 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the Earth. 'We claim that PFTBA has the highest radiative efficiency of any molecule detected in the atmosphere to date,' says Angela Hong. Concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide but PFTBA is long-lived. There are no known processes that would destroy or remove PFTBA in the lower atmosphere so it has a very long lifetime, possibly hundreds of years, and is destroyed in the upper atmosphere. 'It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth.' PFTBA has been in use since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment, such as transistors and capacitors. 'PFTBA is just one example of an industrial chemical that is produced but there are no policies that control its production, use or emission,' says Hong. 'It is not being regulated by any type of climate policy.'"
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Newly Discovered Greenhouse Gas Is 7,000 Times More Powerful Than CO2

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  • Concentrations (Score:5, Interesting)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:12AM (#45670501) Homepage Journal

    Sure, lots of things have a stronger absorption profile than CO2, CH4 is one, but if it even has a hundred thousandth of the emission levels of carbon dioxide, I'd be pretty surprised.

    Still: fix the easy things first.

    • Re:Concentrations (Score:5, Insightful)

      by CastrTroy (595695) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#45670551) Homepage
      Exactly. The current levels are .18 parts per TRILLION, as compared to 400 parts per MILLION for CO2. Convert the CO2 concentration to the same units and you're comparing 0.18 for the new one to 400,000,000 for carbon dioxide. So, even if it does have an effect of 7000 times, that still only makes it comparable to 1260 vs. 400,000,000.
      • by tmosley (996283)
        Sure, but how many other CFCs are floating around out there?
    • Re:Concentrations (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jonnythan (79727) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:20AM (#45670581) Homepage

      Well, there are no known processes by which PFTBA is broken down or removed from the atmosphere. So the effect is basically cumulative.

      The other thing is that atmospheric concentrations are already in the 0.18 ppt range. CO2 is about 2,000,000 times more concentrated at the moment, at least in the Toronto area. This means that CO2 still has around 300 times the impact [ballpark figure based on numbers in the article], but if we keep up PTFBA production it could potentially start to be significant.

      "The easy things first" makes sense, but "easy things" and "hard things" aren't always mutually exclusive. And frankly, PTFBA reduction is probably much closer to "easy thing" than CO2 reduction is.

      • by jonnythan (79727)

        Math fail. Should be:

        CO2 is 2,000,000,000 more concentrated so it has 300,000 times the impact. Point still stands though, to some degree.

      • by dj245 (732906)

        Well, there are no known processes by which PFTBA is broken down or removed from the atmosphere. So the effect is basically cumulative.

        We're talking about Florinert [wikipedia.org] here, which many geeks have actually heard of, unlike the acronym PTFBA. It costs more than $100 a pound. I strongly doubt anybody is spraying this stuff all over the place like hairspray.

  • by thebes (663586) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:13AM (#45670513)

    Obligatory xckd
    http://xkcd.com/558/ [xkcd.com]

    0.18 PPT vs 400 PPM
    0.18 PPT vs 400000000 PPM
    0.00000018 PPM vs 400 PPM

    One of them is deceptive, the other 2 provide proper context. Even being 7000 times more powerful doesn't make up for 6 orders of magnitude in concentration.

    • by Russ1642 (1087959)

      This is all that needs to be said about this article.

    • by thebes (663586)

      400000000 PPM should have said 400000000 PPT

    • Yeah but can you break that down in orders of magnitude, as it relates to my daughter? That was really helpful in the xkcd.com strip.
    • 0.00000018 PPM * 700 Rh = 0.00126 Rh/PPM
        400 PPM * 1 Rh - 400 = Rh/PPM

      So even though PFTBA is affecting heat about 1/8000 as much as CO2 -- numbers like that add up.

      We only need 7,999 more existential threats from obscure gases to kill us off in a fiery/warm deathly Armageddon of doom. You've been warned.

  • Bucky quote (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schneidafunk (795759) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:18AM (#45670549)

    "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."

    -R. Buckminster Fuller

    • by fnj (64210)

      If that quote is accurate, Mr. Fuller was mistaken.

      Pollution is allowed to happen because harvesting the resources represented would cost grossly more than they are worth.

      • If that quote is accurate, Mr. Fuller was mistaken.

        Pollution is allowed to happen because harvesting the resources represented would cost grossly more than they are worth.

        Too often, however, the "worth" is computed by the bean-counters merely by clean-up costs to the company and not on the costs to the rest of us.

    • by cellocgw (617879)

      "Pollution is nothing but the resources we are not harvesting. We allow them to disperse because we've been ignorant of their value."

      And yet, it's been conclusively proven that Tywin's shit is NOT gold. So somebody misoverestimated its value.

  • Let's imagine some mad dictator in Northen Cubic Iran starts producing it in huuuge quantities, put into weak containers all accross the country and around his presidential palaces and says 'try to bomb me now'.
    Is it feasible for such person to produce enough of this stuff that when released into atmosphere, it would make a significant effect? Not extinction in 1 year effect, but something like 'speed up global warming by 10 years and put it behind the line where Syberia undeground methane starts bubbling a

    • by tmosley (996283)
      Politicians can't think that far ahead. Their bloodlust will easily overcome their fear of worldwide ecological disaster.
    • by dj245 (732906)

      Let's imagine some mad dictator in Northen Cubic Iran starts producing it in huuuge quantities, put into weak containers all accross the country and around his presidential palaces and says 'try to bomb me now'. Is it feasible for such person to produce enough of this stuff that when released into atmosphere, it would make a significant effect? Not extinction in 1 year effect, but something like 'speed up global warming by 10 years and put it behind the line where Syberia undeground methane starts bubbling a lot more'?

      Only a bond villain would do this considering the stuff costs in the neighborhood of $100 a pound.

  • by ArcadeMan (2766669) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:21AM (#45670597)

    Concentrations of PFTBA in the atmosphere are low – 0.18 parts per trillion in the Toronto area – compared to 400 parts per million for carbon dioxide but PFTBA is long-lived.

    Yeah, but if it's 7000 times more powerful, than 0.18 parts * 7000 means 1260 parts per trillion compared to 400 parts per... oh wait, million? Who's to blame for this bullshit comparison, the University of Toronto or The Guardian? I guess no answer is needed on that one.

  • by Trepidity (597) <delirium-slashdo ... g ['ish' in gap]> on Thursday December 12, 2013 @11:22AM (#45670607)

    "It is so much less than carbon dioxide, but the important thing is on a per molecule basis, it is very very effective in interacting with heat from the Earth."

    There are a number of gases that are more potent greenhouse gases than carbon dioxide. The issue with carbon dioxide isn't that it has a particularly extreme greenhouse-gas effect, but the combination of two things: 1) it is a somewhat potent greenhouse gas; and 2) we are releasing a huge amount of it at pretty incredible industrial scales. Not a little bit here and there in obscure industrial processes, but through things like coal power plants that literally burn 100 to 200 train cars' worth of coal per day (a typical train car fits ~100 tonnes of coal). The scale is actually pretty impressive, in an old-school, 19th-century industrialism sort of way. The sheer volume of coal these plants burn is such that just keeping it coming regularly is a logistical challenge, and there's a whole industry around technology to unload these 100-car trains in few enough hours that you can get the next one in.

    The short of it is that [potency x volume] is the basic issue. Very potent but miniscule releases aren't that important, though it's worth keeping on eye on them.

    • by riverat1 (1048260)

      ... (a typical train car fits ~100 tonnes of coal) ...

      And burning 100 tonnes of coal will produce about 256 tonnes of CO2 (assuming the coal is 70% carbon).

  • Methane is 20x more powerful at trapping heat than CO2, and also it recycles out of the atmosphere in just 12 years.

    Maybe we should do something to reduce the billions of methane machines in the world (cows, pigs, etc). Not only would there not exist billions of these animals without human interference, many of these farm animals produce an abnormal amount of methane due to their crappy, corn-fed diet.

    Humans gotta eat, but there are healthier options out there than corn fed farm animals (for both us, and th

    • That's the thing though, Methane is pretty short lived. To me that makes it low priority since we can "fix" it by slaughtering all the cows later when things get really bad from all the CO2 being released from Coal Power stations. Something which stays in the atmosphere for a long time like CO2 is the high priority since the longer we take to lower our emissions the longer we are pumping huge quantities of it into the atmosphere which takes a long long time to go away. Methane is in equilibrium with its so
      • yes and no. methane is pretty short lived in the atmosphere because in areas with sufficient sunlight and water vapor, hydroxyl radicals are created which help break down methane into CO2.

        of course, in areas like the poles where there's little water vapor and less solar insolation, methane tends to last a great deal longer. this is one of the reasons the north polar region is warming faster than any other place.

  • Dr. Random: well team, have we finished research on the perfluorotributylamine samples yet?
    gradstudent slave: yes and its a tremendously important chemical Dr. Random, have you read our summary?
    Dr. Random: yes...it says here this is an incredibly powerful greenhouse gas...oh dear lord.....this means..
    gradstudent slave: we need to alert the world in a peer reviewed open access journal without a moment to lose?!
    Dr. Random: no...tell no one....this is the end of toques and tire chains as we know it!
  • That clorflourocarbons and their halon subsititues are inense greenhouse gases. here [sciencedaily.com]
  • Remember how we went through the process of removing CFCs from production and usage (by and large) because of the ozone holes?

    It didn't stop the greenhouse effect overall, though, did it? Because sufficient impetus wasn't given to citizens or to governments to avoid expelling greenhouse gases. Especially when it's an issue of what's coming out of your whip cream canister, it gives you little reason to put thought behind that next cut of steak you're going to put that whip cream onto.

    Here's just another gas

    • by cusco (717999)

      You do realize that the 'ozone hole' issue has nothing to do with global warming, don't you? Because we stopped most use of CFCs the annual ozone hole is reducing in size each year as the chemical finally degrades. This is a good thing, especially for people who live at high altitudes. Most CFCs also happen to be greenhouse gasses, but that wasn't the reason their production and use was curtailed.

  • by edibobb (113989) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @12:16PM (#45671203) Homepage
    It's odd how people have been using this gas for 100 years and it is still "newly discovered."

    Obligatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1283/ [xkcd.com]
    • by cusco (717999)

      The gas isn't newly discovered, its greenhouse properties are. Apparently no one ever bothered to measure them before.

  • by csumpi (2258986) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @12:19PM (#45671225)
    Global warming is not the issue.

    The problem is overpopulation. The solution to which is pretty simple: stop shitting out kids.

    Global warming is just a symptom, or might be mother nature's way of fixing the problem. Although its long term effects are far less predictable than the weather tomorrow. (Which seems either impossible, or all climate scientists and meteorologists suck.)
    • by Jeff Flanagan (2981883) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @01:08PM (#45671789)
      That's not remotely simple. How do you propose to stop people from breeding?

      A large portion of the population would go completely insane if we instituted reproductive limits.

      When conservatives lose their shit completely over not being able to buy a jumbo cup of carbonated sugar-water or poison themselves with trans-fats, you know they're going to go totally bonkers if you tell them they can't have five kids. The more ignorant Americans even lost their minds over the first lady's eat-healthy initiative. Too many Americans are just too selfish and aggressively ignorant to ever do what's right, and I don't expect people anywhere else to be much better.
      • by swb (14022)

        Instead of telling people they can't have kids or trying to punish them if they do, why not offer them incentives?

        I can think of two ways to approach this, short-term (long-term implantable contraceptives) and long-term (sterilization).

        On the short-term side, you could offer a cash payment for any woman willing to use an implantable birth control device. Subdermal implants last for three years, some IUDs as long as five years.

        On the long-term side, you could offer a more substantial payment for vasectomies

    • by jez9999 (618189)

      The problem is overpopulation. The solution to which is pretty simple: stop shitting out kids.

      What part of the world do you live in? That doesn't happen here.

    • by Mashiki (184564)

      The problem is overpopulation. The solution to which is pretty simple: stop shitting out kids.

      Yeah except that with our current farming methods and land use, we have plenty of room. And if we use some of the more fertile places in the world just for food production instead of turning food into fuel, we could easily support another 3 billion, and upwards of 7 billion people.

      Why do I have a sneaking suspicion that you're also an ardent environmentalist? And with that, you have strong Malthusian leanings.

  • It's odd how this gas has been used for 100 years and is still "newly discovered".

    Obligatory xkcd: http://xkcd.com/1283/ [xkcd.com]
  • by Alsee (515537) on Thursday December 12, 2013 @12:43PM (#45671493) Homepage

    Newly Discovered Greenhouse Gas Is 7,000 Times More Powerful Than CO2

    ... emitted whenever a politician speaks.

    -

  • Where are the peer reviewed papers and corroborating research?
  • Until of course, someone renames it. Nobody can possible be afraid of a news story about PFTBA. If you call it "Electrical Insulation Gas of Heat Death" -- well, then, that should do it.

  • and used by a few overclockers with full-immersion cooling systems.

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