A New Greenhouse Gas Has Been Found, 7,100 Times More Powerful Than CO2

The Greenhouse Effect consists in the absorption of thermal radiation from a planetary surface by atmospheric gases (called greenhouse gases), which then re-radiate that radiation in every directions. Given that some of this re-radiation is made towards the surface of the planet, causing for a raise in it's average temperature.

There are four greenhouse gases: water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and ozone (O3). Even though water vapor is, by far, the gas with the highest contribution to Greenhouse Effect, which goes from 36 to 70 percent, it has almost no action in global warming, since it has a short life-span in the atmosphere (around 10 days). On the contrary, CO2 has a longer lifetime, therefore being more hazardous.

CO2 is, in a large scale, produced by fossil fuel burning and is potentiated by some other activities such as deforestation (as you might know, trees absorb CO2, so if there are less trees there will be more CO2 going into the atmosphere). The amount of CO2 expelled to our atmosphere has been largely growing - in 1960, its concentration was 313 ppm (parts per million), and 50 years later it rose to 389 ppm, reaching the landmark of 400 ppm on May 9, 2013.

A recent study, by a team of scientists from the University of Toronto, has brought into light the discovery of a new greenhouse gas, the perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA). Angela Hong, one of the co-authors of this study, says that «PFTBA is extremely long-lived in the atmosphere and it has a very high radiative efficiency» which, as I explained before, results in a high global warming potential. In addition, «calculated over a 100-year timeframe, a single molecule of PFTBA has the equivalent climate impact as 7,100 molecules of CO2».

Chemical Structure of PFTBAChemical Structure of PFTBA

Researchers also say that PFTBA can persist in the atmosphere for up to 500 years, which makes it the most potent greenhouse gas ever discovered. Luckily, there is not much of this gas wandering around our atmosphere, so we can rest assured - by now. PFTBA is man made and used in electronic testing and as heat transfer agent.

For now, CO2 still remains as the "one to beat", but if PFTBA emissions are not controlled and monitored, things can get much worse pretty quickly.

Diogo CostaInternational Innovations