Earth Island Institute logo, tap or click to visit the Institute home page

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News > Post and Comments

Latest News

New Greenhouse Gas Discovered

Perfluorotributylamine is 7,100 times worse than CO2

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 journal Geophysical 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.

Polar Mesospheric Clouds Over the South Pacific Ocean (NASA, International Space Station Science, 1/05/13)photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, on FlickrClouds over the Southern ocean as seen from space.

"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 CO2 from 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, CO2 emission 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."

Email this post to a friend.

Write to the editor about this post.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $10



Lets Save EARTH! God gave us earth like this with a reason.

By Ann on Sat, February 08, 2014 at 2:02 pm

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Remember my personal information?

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author


Four issues for just
$15 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!