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Greenhouse Gases Keep Popping Up

Perfluoroalkylamines, largely uncharacterized in the atmosphere, are potent long-lived greenhouse gases that bear watching, researchers say

by Stephen K. Ritter
November 18, 2013 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 91, Issue 46

Many halogenated compounds have properties that make them useful as refrigerants and fire suppressants. But these same properties often make the compounds long-lived in the atmosphere, where they act as greenhouse gases and in some cases interfere with Earth’s protective ozone layer. A research team led by Scott A. Mabury of the University of Toronto has found that one previously unexplored molecule, perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA), which is used in electronics testing and as a heat-transfer agent, is one of the most potent greenhouse gases known (Geophys. Res. Lett. 2013, DOI: 10.1002/2013gl058010). Mabury, Angela C. Hong, and Cora J. Young used mass spectrometry to detect and quantify PFTBA when taking atmospheric measurements in Toronto. Michael D. Hurley and Timothy J. Wallington of Ford Motor Co. then used infrared spectroscopy data they collected to calculate PFTBA’s radiative efficiency, which is its ability to trap heat, and found that it is significantly higher than any compound ever detected in the atmosphere. Combined with its estimated 500-year atmospheric lifetime, PFTBA’s global-warming potential is 7,100 relative to CO2, which is set at 1, making it among the highest for any compound studied thus far.


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