The study was conducted by University of California atmospheric chemists Michael J. Prather and Juno Hsu, who report that NF3 is a synthetic chemical which is not included in the Kyoto "basket of greenhouse gases or in national reporting under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)." NF3 was not included in Kyoto because it was used in small amounts when the Kyoto protocol was negotiated in 1997: Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) were then used in the computer industry but 2/3 of the PFCs "escaped into the atmosphere, contributing to the greenhouse effect." NF3 was viewed as an environmentally beneficial alternative:
Reacting to environmental concerns, the industry sought a substitute -- and estimated that NF3, though it had greater potential for global warming, was less likely to escape into the air.
Now, the study concluded that the signification production quantities of NF3 kick it up the scale of potential GHG impacts:
With 2008 production equivalent to 67 million metric tons of CO2, NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than that of the industrialized nations' emissions of PFCs or SF6, or even that of the world's largest coal-fired power plants.
NF3 was previously believed to have a lifetime of 740 years, but this study calculated a shorter life of 550 years. Even knocking off 190 years leaves a substantial period of time for deleterious impacts:
This study is important because LCD monitors have been marketed as "environmentally friendly"
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.