July 5, 2023: Scientists have discovered that there is an immediately viable, cost-effective, and implementable approach to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions. By utilising existing technology in industrial sectors, it is possible to effectively reduce nitrous oxide-an environmentally harmful greenhouse gas and ozone-depleter.
"The urgency of climate change requires that all greenhouse gas emissions be abated as quickly as is technologically and economically feasible," said lead author Eric Davidson commenting, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, in an official press release. He further added, "Limiting nitrous oxide in an agricultural context is complicated, but mitigating it in industry is affordable and available right now. Here is a low-hanging fruit that we can pluck quickly."
Greenhouse gases, when released into the atmosphere, trap solar heat and contribute to global warming. Nitrous oxide, ranked third among greenhouse gases after carbon dioxide and methane, possesses a potent global warming potential, nearly 300 times higher than carbon dioxide. Commonly referred to as laughing gas, it remains in the atmosphere for over a century and poses a dual threat by not only causing global warming but also depleting the protective ozone layer in the stratosphere. Therefore, reducing emissions of nitrous oxide yields a twofold advantage for both the environment and mankind.
The concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has been increasing rapidly in recent decades, primarily due to rising agricultural emissions. These agricultural sources account for approximately two-thirds of the global nitrous oxide produced by humans, the reduction of which poses a significant challenge. Whereas the industry and energy sectors have the advantage of already having low-cost technologies available to effectively reduce nitrous oxide emissions to almost zero.
Within the industrial sector, nitrous oxide emissions mainly stem from the production of adipic acid (used in nylon production) and nitric acid (used in the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilisers, adipic acid, and explosives). Additionally, emissions arise from the combustion of fossil fuels during manufacturing processes and from internal combustion engines used in vehicles such as cars and trucks.
Consumer preferences for environmentally-friendly products could motivate the private sector to actively participate in reducing nitrous oxide emissions. A significant portion of global nitrous emissions, specifically 65%, is associated with nylon products used in passenger cars and light vehicles. To address this issue, automobile manufacturers have the potential to make a difference by mandating their supply chains to procure nylon exclusively from plants that implement efficient nitrous oxide abatement technology.
The discovery that a potent greenhouse gas produced by industry can be readily abated using existing technologies offers a glimmer of hope in the fight against climate change. This finding provides a tangible solution that can be implemented immediately. By harnessing these technologies and prioritising their widespread adoption, industries have the potential to significantly curb their environmental impact and contribute to a more sustainable future.