Early last month, U of T’s Department of Chemistry discovered a chemical in the atmosphere that outranks all other known greenhouse gases. Perfluorotributylamine (PFTBA) joins the list of long-lived greenhouse gases (LLGHG), which are chemicals that tend to linger in the Earth’s atmosphere for extended periods of time — enough to cause warming.
The news follows the conclusion of the nineteenth annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which has not yet come up with an agreement to adress climate change issues. With the discovery of this LLGHG, the urgency to reduce emissions from other greenhouse gases is even more critical.
PFTBA is used for various electrical applications. Currently, it is used in thermally and chemically stable liquids, which are used in electronics testing as well as heat transfer agents.
When compared with carbon dioxide (CO₂), the most concentrated human-induced greenhouse gas, PFTBA has a very long life span and very high radiative efficiency, and therefore a high potential for warming.
Radiative efficiency is used to describe how well a molecule can impact the climate. A single molecule of PFTBA has the same impact as 7,100 molecules of CO₂. What makes the chemical even more frightening is that it does not occur naturally and is human produced. Because of this, there are no known processes to destroy the chemical.