Greenhouse Gas Nitrogen Trifluoride More Common Says NASA

Greenhouse Gas Nitrogen Trifluoride

NASA says that new research indicates a powerful greenhouse gas is at
least four times more prevalent in the atmosphere than previously
estimated. The research, based on data from a NASA-funded measurement
network, examined nitrogen trifluoride, which is thousands of times
more effective at warming the atmosphere than an equal mass of carbon

Using new analytical techniques, Ray Weiss (Scripps Institution of Oceanography) led a team of researchers in making the first atmospheric measurements of nitrogen trifluoride.

The amount of the gas in the atmosphere, which could not be detected using previous techniques, says NASA, had been estimated at less than 1,200 metric tons in 2006. The new research shows the actual amount was 4,200 metric tons. In 2008, about 5,400 metric tons of the gas are in the atmosphere, a quantity that is increasing at a rate of about 11 percent per year.

“Accurately measuring small amounts of nitrogen trifluoride in air has proven to be a very difficult experimental problem, and we are very pleased to have succeeded in this effort,” Weiss said. The research will be published 31 October 2008 in the American Geophysical Union’s Geophysical Research Letters.

According to the space agency, emissions of nitrogen trifluoride were thought to be so low that the gas was not considered a significant potential contributor to global warming. It was not covered by the Kyoto Protocol, the 1997 agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions signed by 182 countries.

NASA claims the gas is 17,000 times more potent as a global warming agent than a similar mass of carbon dioxide. It survives in the atmosphere about five times longer than carbon dioxide. However, current nitrogen trifluoride emissions contribute only about 0.15 percent of the total global warming effect caused by current human-produced carbon dioxide emissions, says NASA.

Nitrogen trifluoride is one of several gases used during the
manufacture of liquid crystal flat-panel displays, thin-film solar cells and microcircuits. Many industries have used the gas in recent years as an alternative to perfluorocarbons, which also are potent greenhouse gases, because it was believed that no more than two percent of the nitrogen trifluoride used in these processes escaped into the atmosphere.

The Scripps team analyzed air samples gathered during the past 30
years, including samples from the NASA-funded Advanced Global
Atmospheric Gases Experiment network of ground-based stations. The
network was created in the 1970s in response to international
concerns about chemicals depleting the ozone layer. It is supported
by NASA as part of its congressional mandate to monitor
ozone-depleting trace gases, many of which also are greenhouse gases.

Air samples are collected at several stations around the world. The
Scripps team analyzed samples from coastal clean-air stations in
California and Tasmania for this research.

The researchers found concentrations of the gas rose from about 0.02 parts per trillion in 1978 to 0.454 parts per trillion in 2008. The samples also showed significantly higher concentrations of nitrogen trifluoride in the Northern Hemisphere than in the Southern Hemisphere, which the researchers said is consistent with its use predominantly in that hemisphere. The current observed rate of increase of nitrogen trifluoride in the atmosphere corresponds to emissions of about 16 percent of the amount of the gas produced

In response to the growing use of the gas and concerns that its
emissions are not well known, scientists recently have recommended
adding it to the list of greenhouse gases regulated by Kyoto.

“As is often the case in studying atmospheric emissions, this study
shows a significant disagreement between ‘bottom-up’ emissions
estimates and the actual emissions as determined by measuring their
accumulation in the atmosphere,” Weiss said.

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Virgin Atlantic Airlines Biofuel 747 Airplane Flown

Hats off to Sir Richard Branson and his Virgin Atlantic Airways for conducting the first test flight of a biofueled commercial jet aircraft. The plane, a Boeing 747-400, was flown with fuel tanks loaded with both kerosene (jet fuel) and a biofuel made of a mix of babassu oil and coconut oil.

The engines were GE CF6 gas turbines. According to GE, only one engine ran on the biofuel during the test flight. The flight was a brief trip from London Heathrow to Amsterdam.

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Associated Press Adds To Anti Hydrogen Hysteria

Another spurt of anti hydrogen stink was expelled in an article about so-called alternative fuels for air travel in today’s airliners written by Associated Press reporter Allison Linn. To her credit, she makes some object points about long standing interest in the aviation community in hydrogen.

Unfortunately, she could not resist the temptation to reference the fire which destroyed the Hindenburg in 1937. She failed to mention that most experts now believe the skin burned due to the coating’s uncanny chemical resemblance to gun powder which would have caused the loss of a helium filled Hindenburg as well.

Furthermore, had that same volume been filled with gasoline vapors at the point of ignition instead of hydrogen, the resulting catastrophic explosion would have likely killed everyone standing on the ground. That is only to illustrate that hydrogen contains less explosive energy by volume that gasoline, not that gas could be used in airships to lift the envelope. However, it does explain why diesel is used to power the motors on airships and not gasoline.

On the topic of hydrogen as a feasible energy carrier or airline fuel, the facts are fairly simple and straight forward. Early adoption of hydrogen fuel requires high value, pollution-sensitive applications where little new infrastructure is required.

Airline travel does meet these criteria perfectly but there is significant economic sensitivity and regulatory complexity in implementing the hydrogen solution. Airliners, like buses, stop at specific destinations thus fueling stations located at airports, including on-site reforming of natural gas or water electrolysis, let alone delivery by pipeline or tanker, require less infrastructure than hydrogen powered cars.

The airline industry is also facing increasing pressure to further reduce the impact of its jet engine emissions, both the main propulsion systems and auxiliary powerplants or APUs. Hydrogen can be “burned” in these gas turbine engines with zero carbon output and low levels of nitrogen oxides (NOX). If fuel cell technology proves viable the fans of fan jet engines could be spun by electric motors powered by PEM fuel cells which would turn airliners into zero emission transportation systems.

Storage remains a challenge, especially for the very weight and volume sensitive airline industry. Cryogenic storage looks like the most viable initial path with relatively light weight very high pressure carbon fiber compressed gas tanks in the 10,000 psi plus range to follow.

All fuels contain energy and hydrogen is no exception, so safety remains a normal concern. In some respects it is arguably safer than Jet A. Unlike Jet A, it will not poison you if you breath it in (short of suffocation) or inhale the exhaust by-products. And unlike Jet A, in the event of a crash and rupture of the tanks, hydrogen, both liquid and gaseous, will dissipate quickly into the surrounding air reducing the chance of a post crash fire due to fuel, if it has not already begun. And those wafts of hydrogen? Non polluting, of course.

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Hydrogen Fuel Prize – H-Prize Act of 2006

Count on the Congress of the United States to close the gate after the horse has left the barn. With climate change (aka global warming) not only in your face, but your backyard, front yard, living room and kitchen, assuming your coastal house is still standing, the 109th Congress is considering the H-Prize Act of 2006, an X-Prize like competition to create incentives for innovation in hydrogen transportation and stationary technologies.

The prize and idea are great but long overdue. This should have been law for the past 20 years. If it were, the climate would likely still be warmer but our air cleaner, importation of crude oil lower and geopolitics considerably more civil.

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