Underreported: NF3s and Global Warming

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Switching to solar energy may not be as green as it seems. Many of the newest solar panels are made with a gas, NF3, that is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to global warming. NF3 is also used in the manufacture of flat-screen TVs, iPhones, computer chips, and lots more. Michael Prather is professor at UC Irvine.


Michael Prather

Comments [5]

James from Brooklyn

The bit about solar panels not being economical is not fully true. See above. In the areas of the world with the highest electricity rates, such as Italy, Hawaii, and California, unsubsidized solar power is currently a breakeven proposition.

Dec. 11 2008 01:58 PM
Eric from B'klyn

ditto... is this true of the new thin film solar capture?

Dec. 11 2008 01:50 PM
James from Brooklyn

The Sci Am article referenced above also mentioned that some companies such as LG are now generating their own flourine gas, a process that does not use NF3, and does not release a harmful GHG. While it is expensive enough that only large companies can do this, is this a potential solution?

Dec. 11 2008 01:49 PM
James from Brooklyn

Sorry to blab on, but my point in the above comment is that, due to economies of scale in production, the price gap between "newer" solar panels and first generation panels is narrowing. So "newer" in solar does not necessarily mean cheaper or better.

Dec. 11 2008 12:35 PM
James from Brooklyn

According to the article in Scientific American that quotes Michael Prather, the nitrogen triflouride (NF3) gas is used primarily in the production of thin-film solar panels.

Could you ask Mr. Prather to describe the difference between thin film panels and traditional panels made from crystalline silicon? Does NF3 play a part in the sand to refined silicon to wafer to cell to panel production process of traditional silicon panels? Do any other significant greenhouse gases play a part, besides those used to power the factories?

As a small individual investor in solar, I would like to point out that the cost equation that had favored thin-film panels is currently shifting back towards crystalline silicon panels. Commodity silicon prices have dropped greatly due to much increased capacity. Crystalline panels are still more expensive, but it takes fewer of them to construct a one megawatt installation, so by the time they are on the ground and making power, the "balance of system" costs will soon be the same as thin-film solar installations.

Dec. 11 2008 12:30 PM

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