Scientists from the University of Toronto have discovered a novel chemical in the atmosphere that appears to be a long-lived greenhouse gas (LLGHG). The chemical—perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA)—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.
Calculated over a 100-year timeframe, a single molecule of PFTBA has the equivalent climate impact of 7,100 molecules of CO2; i.e., its global warming potential (GWP) is 7,100.
PFTBA 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. It does not occur naturally; that is, it is produced by humans.
There are no known processes that would destroy or remove PFTBA in the lower atmosphere so it has a very long lifetime, possibly hundreds of years, and is destroyed in the upper atmosphere.
The research was funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.
Hong, A. C., C. J. Young, M. D. Hurley, T. J. Wallington, and S. A. Mabury (2013), “Perfluorotributylamine: A novel long-lived greenhouse gas,” Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, doi: 10.1002/2013GL058010