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Solar Panels Linked To Rise In Greenhouse Gas; NF3 More Potent Than CO2

First Posted: Jul 05, 2017 05:43 AM EDT
Solar Panels
Wind turbines stand behind a solar power park.
(Photo : Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Carbon dioxide makes up 82 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. But it seems that it is less of a problem now compared to the rise of a more potent emission: nitrogen trifluoride or NF3.

The Weather Network noted that overall emissions of CO2 have risen only 5.6 percent from 1990 to 2015, but levels of NF3 have seen an increase of 1,057 percent in the same period. The exponential rise may have been linked to the manufacturing sector that uses the chemical to make solar panels, semiconductors and LCDs. Incidentally, the same discovery threatens the construction of the U.S.-Mexico border wall ordered by President Donald Trump.

At a rally in Iowa, the president proposed installing solar panels on his wall, saying that the wall can then "create energy and pay for itself." However, the administration is still facing a problem regarding construction of solar panels, which could increase prevalence of NF3 and intensify climate change issues.

Mainly used as a cleaning agent to clear away silicone, NF3 is usually eliminated during use, but a small percentage can still leak into the atmosphere. At this point, it is unclear just how much has been leaked but scientists have warned that NF3 is effective at trapping heat and can remain in the atmosphere for hundreds of years. Seeker also noted that NF3, despite contributing little to greenhouse gas emissions compared to CO2, is actually 17,200 times more potent.

Dr. Michael Prather of the University of California, Irvine, said that while NF3 will not create a climate problem, its numbers still add up. Thus, everyone should pay attention to the small things that add up, especially considering how dangerous it could be in the long run.

Despite the rise of NF3 being linked to solar panels, environmentalists are still quick to defend their stance. Tim Donaghy, a senior research specialist for Greenpeace, said, "The impact of NF3 as a global warming gas is big on a per-molecule basis, but the benefits of carbon-free energy from solar panels swamp the negative impacts due to NF3 emissions."

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