Perfluorotributylamine – a chemical used in the electrical industry – has the potential to contribute significantly to global warming, according to a team of scientists from Canada.
Perfluorotributylamine is the most radiatively-efficient chemical found to date, breaking all other chemical records for its potential to affect climate.
Radiative efficiency describes how effectively a molecule can affect climate. This value is then multiplied by its atmospheric concentration to determine the total climate impact.
Perfluorotributylamine has been in use since the mid-20th century for various applications in electrical equipment and is used in thermally and chemically stable liquids marketed for use in electronic testing and as heat transfer agents.
There are no known processes that would destroy or remove perfluorotributylamine in the lower atmosphere so it has a very long lifetime, possibly 500 years, and is destroyed in the upper atmosphere.
“Global warming potential is a metric used to compare the cumulative effects of different greenhouse gases on climate over a specified time period,” said Dr Cora Young from the University of Toronto, who is the second author of the paper published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.
“Time is incorporated in the global warming potential metric as different compounds stay in the atmosphere for different lengths of time, which determines how long-lasting the climate impacts are. “
Carbon dioxide is used as the baseline for comparison since it is the most important greenhouse gas responsible for human-induced climate change.
“Perfluorotributylamine is extremely long-lived in the atmosphere and it has a very high radiative efficiency; the result of this is a very high global warming potential. Calculated over a 100-year timeframe, a single molecule of perfluorotributylamine has the equivalent climate impact as 7,100 molecules of carbon dioxide,” said lead author Dr Angela Hong, also from the University of Toronto.
Hong AC et al. Perfluorotributylamine: A novel long-lived greenhouse gas. Geophysical Research Letters, published online November 27, 2013; doi: 10.1002/2013GL058010