Uh oh! Those space saving flat screens we all go gaga over may actually be way harmful to the environment.
According to a New Scientist report, nitrogen trifluoride, the gas used to manufacture LCDs and plasmas, may be 17,000 times as powerful as carbon dioxide. NF3 is not covered by the Kyoto protocol so there's no incentive by manufacturers to curb its use. One of the reasons they may not want to limit its use is that there is no clear evidence of how much NF3 is actually making it into the atmosphere...
NF3 is used mainly to flush out the by-products of a process which deposits thin films onto glass surfaces for LCDs and onto silicon wafers for semiconductors.
Professor Michael Prather from the University of California has published an analysis that calculates the potential warming effect of currently manufactured NF3. He told New Scientist in this week's issue [username and password needed] that he estimates 4,000 tons of NF3 will be produced in 2008 and that number is likely to double next year. "We don't know what's emitted, but what they're producing every year dwarfs these giant coal-fired power plants that are like the biggest in the world," he said. "And it dwarfs two of the Kyoto gases. So the real question we don't know is how much is escaping and getting out."
According to the mag, "Ironically, the surge in demand followed Air Products' development of NF3 as an alternative to perfluorocarbons (PFCs) - greenhouse gases subject to the Kyoto protocol. In 2002, the company won a climate protection award from the US Environmental Protection Agency for 'replacing PFCs in the semiconductor industry, resulting in a significant net reduction of greenhouse gas emissions'. But since then any gains are likely to have been wiped out by emissions from the soaring use of NF3 by the booming electronics industry." Oops!
One flatscreen manufacturer, Toshiba, is taking the risk seriously and has developed a process that uses pure fluorine instead of NF3, resulting in "zero greenhouse gas emissions".