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Absolutely no flatulence jokes will be blasted out in this blog, and while I'll do my best to hold it in, scientists are letting out concerns that a gas used in the making of LCD and plasma screens could be hurting the environment. The news couldn't have come at a worse time; plasmas and LCDs account for almost half of all televisions produced this year, a trend that doesn't appear to be slowing down. Almost all of them benefited from nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) during the production process, a potentially harmful gas also used to produce semiconductors and synthetic diamonds.
Exactly how dangerous NF3 might be to the environment remains a mystery, and will likely become a point of contention. Skeptics will point out that NF3 isn't one of the six gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol international climate change agreement, a legaly binding treaty designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. However, NF3 was only produced in tiny amounts when the treaty was signed over 10 years ago, and production has since skyrocketed. Today scientists estimate the gas to be 17,000 times stronger than carbon dioxide and warn it could cause more global warming than coal-fired power plants.
Highlighting concerns in the United States, a Congress mandate calls for all full-power television stations to make the transition to digital-only broadcasting by February 17, 2009, further fueling demand for an already booming flat-screen market. An estimated 4,000 tons of NF3 will be produced in 2008 and could double in 2009. What that means to the environment won't be known until measurements of NF3 released into the atmosphere are taken. From there, let the global warming debate resume.
Image Credit: Fenner School of Environment and Society