I got this via email, source Washington Post.
Think switching to solar energy will make you green? Think again. Many of the newest solar panels are manufactured with a gas that is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming.
Nitrogen trifluoride, or NF3, is used for cleaning microcircuits during the manufacture of a host of modern electronics, including flat-screen TVs, iPhones, computer chips—and thin-film solar panels, the latest (and cheapest) generation of solar photovoltaics. (Time named the panels one of the best inventions of 2008.) Because industry estimates suggested that only about 2 percent of NF3 ever made it into the atmosphere, the chemical has been marketed as a cleaner alternative to other higher-emitting options. For the past decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has actively encouraged its use. NF3 also wasn’t deemed dangerous enough to be covered by the Kyoto Protocol, making it an attractive substitute for companies and signatory countries eager to lower their emissions footprints.
It turns out that NF3 might not be so green after all. “NF3 has a potential greenhouse impact larger than … even that of the world’s largest coal-fired power plants,” according to a June 2008 study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine. Because NF3 isn’t covered by Kyoto, few attempts have been made to measure it in the atmosphere. But last October, scientists at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that four times more NF3 is present in the atmosphere than industry estimates suggest, and its concentration is rising 11 percent a year.
Compared with the damage caused by CO2 emissions, NF3 remains a blip because far less of it is emitted. But Ray Weiss, who led the Scripps team, thinks that, unless regulations require more complete greenhouse gas measurements, more unpleasant surprises will be in store. With NF3, he says, “We’re finding considerably more in the atmosphere than was expected. This [gas] won’t be the only example of that.”