LCD Chemical Found to Have 17,000 Times the Climate Impact of CO2.

cracked-lcd.jpgDubbed the “missing greenhouse gas,” nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) was found by a recent study to have a global climate impact 17,000 times greater than carbon dioxide. The chemical is found in the LCD panels of cell phones, televisions, and computer monitors, as well as in semiconductors and synthetic diamonds. The chemical is not one of the greenhouse gases monitored by the Kyoto Protocol, due to the fact that LCDs were not produced in significant quantities when it was drafted.
What kind of impact is this suppose to have, you ask? The chemical is found to stay in the atmosphere for 550 years and there is no force of nature known to remove it. This year, nitrogen trifluoride emissions are expected to have an impact equal to Austria’s CO2 output. Production of the chemical may double in 2009. The study points to a number of NF3 manufacturing facilities opening up in the US, Korea, and China. The production increase is due in part to the switch to digital television which will lead to increased LCD consumption and the disposal of older sets, some of them early LCD models.

LCD monitors have long been presented as environmentally friendly, particularly next to lead-laden, energy inefficient CRT models. According to ENERGY STAR, they consume half to two-thirds the energy of CRTs. Heat output is also less, leading to lower air conditioning bills. Some companies have gone even further to lessen the environmental impacts of their LCD displays. Lenovo has nearly a dozen EPEAT gold certified displays to offer and Phillips made news with their Eco TV in April. Though the use of mercury and arsenic have been of concern to the environmental and human health, LED-backlit display technology has begun to address these issues.
How companies are going to respond is up in the air. It is cheaper for companies to create NF3 in a way that produces more emissions. Companies could engineer their products to emit less of the chemical, an appropriate response that would please green buyers. However, the cost of doing so may be significant. On top of that, convincing the consumer why this is environmentally positive may be difficult, making the reward far less great. While the environmental impacts and production amounts of the chemical are known, companies may also want to know how much of the gas is present in the air, numbers which the study says have not been gathered. Perhaps atmospheric measurements that might stir public outcry and convince companies to change.

5 responses

  1. I have been in the semiconductor engineering business 21 years. I first used NF3 in 1992 as an etchant in an R&D facility. This gas was monitored by the EPA even back then. The first production site I built using NF3 in 1997 was equipped with state of the art scrubbers. These scrubbers break down the NF3 into a harmless gas. The effect of NF3 as a green house gas has always been known and monitored by the EPA. These articles are irresponsible!
    In 2000 I switched to C5F8 with a GWP of 90. This is a half life of .98 years and is a much better etchant. Cost is much higher.

  2. It’s good to know there is a safe alternative available, Dan.
    The wording in the article specified that there were no reported measurements in peer-reviewed journals and that it was urgent to document atmospheric NF3, which led me to assume that nothing was being done. It’s good to hear that the EPA is doing monitoring and that it can be broken down.

  3. I’ve been recycling electronics for many years including LCD. These articles regarding NF3 being released in the recycling process are popping up everywhere. From what Dan is saying this NF3 is used during manufacturing as an etchant and not present at end of life?

  4. If i have an LCD monitor in my room, is it going to affect my health? What’s not clear to me is whether LCDs emit NF3 during normal usage or not. Could someone please clarify?

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