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Flat screen TVs linked to global warming -

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Flat screen TVs linked to global warming

The World Today - Thursday, 3 July , 2008 12:18:00

Reporter: Jennifer Macey

ELEANOR HALL: Scientists in the United States are warning that a chemical used to make flat screen
televisions may be a new driver of global warming.

The gas, nitrogen trifluoride, has a global warming effect 17,000 times greater than carbon
dioxide, but it's not covered by the Kyoto Protocol because it was only made in small amounts when
the treaty was agreed to in 1997.

The popularity of flat screen TVs though has seen a boom in production of the gas, as Jennifer
Macey reports.

(Sounds of television programs.)

JENNIFER MACEY: Liquid crystal display and plasma television screens are now prominent features of
most Australian lounge rooms and more than 45 million sets were sold around the world in the first
quarter of 2007 alone.

But a chemical is used during the manufacture of these TVs that could pose a hidden danger to the

Professor Michael Prather is from the University of California Irvine. He first stumbled on this
gas, nitrogen trifluoride or NF3, while working as a lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change or IPCC. He says NF3 is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

MICHAEL PRATHER: So a global warming potential as an estimate over a 100-year time frame, shall we
say, of how much a kilogram of this gas would do to the climate versus a kilogram of carbon

So global warming potential on this gas, and so it means that one kilogram of this equals, you
know, literally nine tonnes of CO2.

Now, that's fine because we don't burn as much, we don't make as much of this as we do of CO2 in
the atmosphere, but yet you look at the total amount and it's quite serious.

JENNIFER MACEY: NF3 isn't included in the six gases covered by the Kyoto Protocol because there was
very little of it in 1997 when the treaty was signed.

Professor Prather says he became alarmed recently when a chemical company announced it was ramping
up production of the gas to meet demand for flat screen TVs.

He estimates 4000 tonnes of NF3 will be produced in 2008 and that number is likely to double next

MICHAEL PRATHER: Now that's, we don't know what's emitted, but what they're producing every year
dwarfs you know these giant, coal-fired power plants that are like the biggest in the world. And it
dwarfs two of the Kyoto gases. So the real question we don't know is how much is escaping and
getting out.

JENNIFER MACEY: The gases are used in the production process but aren't stored in the television.

PAUL FRASER: Most of them are probably growing fairly fast in the atmosphere and we need to keep an
eye on them.

JENNIFER MACEY: Dr Paul Fraser is the chief research scientist at the CSIRO's Marine and
Atmospheric Research, and an IPCC author. He says without measuring the quantity of NF3 in the
atmosphere it's unclear what impact it will have on the climate.

PAUL FRASER: We haven't observed it in the atmosphere. It's probably there in very low
concentrations. The key to whether it's a problem or not is how much is released to the atmosphere.

In Michael Prather's paper he assumes that 100 per cent of production is released to the atmosphere
but that could be as low as one per cent and of course therein lies a problem or a non-problem.

JENNIFER MACEY: The University of California's Professor Michael Prather says it's too early to
tell whether this gas should be included in the next round of climate change negotiations, but he
says it's vital that nations begin measuring it.

MICHAEL PRATHER: I'd like to measure it in the atmosphere first because if I really trust these
guys that nothing leaks, then maybe it's not necessary but maybe they should report how much they
make so we at least have a back up.

I'm more worried about a compelling reporting requirement so we can follow it, because right now
they said it's somehow hidden. One of my titles for this paper was, you know, Going Below Kyoto's

It's the sort of gas that's made in huge amounts. Not only is it not in the Kyoto Treaty but you
don't even have to report it. That's the part that worries me.

I'm not so much worried about wether it should be negotiated until we really understand the life
cycle but I think we should have good numbers for it.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Professor Michael Prather from the University of California ending that report
by Jennifer Macey.