Why Flat-Screened TVs Are Bad for the Environment: The Rise of Nitrogen Trifluoride and Our Global Temperature

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The Rise of a New Problem

Almost every child is told to either sit further from the TV or to not watch so much of it. As seen in the 26 June issue of Geophysical Research Letters, TV may be as bad for the environment as it is for your mind. For the past several years, flat screen TV sales have soared. Unfortunately, “flat-screens” are made with a gas called nitrogen trifluoride (NF). While this is a greenhouse gas, it is one that was rarely heard of or considered before flat-screens became a hit. Now that they have, more of this gas is being used.

Nitrogen Trifluoride: More Potent and Unregulated

Since NF was so rare in 1997 when the Kyoto Protocol was being established, it is unregulated by it. This is made worse by the fact that it is not fully contained during the manufacturing process. While only 2-3% of this gas escapes, this could lead to serious consequences when one considers that NF is 688 times more potent than methane, another greenhouse gas.

Not only is NF extremely potent, but it is long lasting as well. Once released, it can reside in the atmosphere for 550 years. Add to this that 4,000 tons of NF is to be generated this year alone and we could be looking at a much warmer future. To gain perspective on the potency of this relatively unknown gas, consider that it takes 16,750 times as many tons of carbon dioxide (CO2), a well publicized greenhouse gas, to equal just one ton of NF. This means, in 2008, if 4,000 tons of NF is used, it will cause as much damage to the environment as 67 million tons of CO2. In 2005, only roughly one fourth of this amount of CO2, or 15 million tons, was released.

Our Race Toward a Warmer Future

The demand and marketing of these types of TVs, however, is unlikely to slow in the near future. In fact, it is anticipated that demand will double by 2012, only five years away. According to Reuters, Samsung hopes to increase their sales of flat-screens by 56% in 2008. This would mean Samsung alone would produce 21 million flat-screen TVs rather than the 13.5 million released in 2007. Sony, according to BusinessWeek, is hoping for a similar outcome, preparing to sell 60% more flat-screens than they did in 2007. This means Sony would manufacture 17 million televisions in 2008. With the prices of flat-screen LCD televisions predicted to drop 20% this year, it is probable that demand for the units will increase. There will be plenty of suppliers, too. Samsung and Sony aren’t the only ones in the market; other strong companies manufacture these types of TVs as well, such as Sharp, RCA and Panasonic.