Is the Solar Industry Hurting the Environment?

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Solar energy is necessary for our transition to a sustainable economy, but a recent study in Geophysical Research Letters suggests that the industry may be harming the environment. Nitrogen Triflouride (NF3), a greenhouse gas used by the semiconductor industry to clean the chambers where silicon chips are produced, has 17,000 times the globe-warming capacity of CO2. Now researchers believe that emissions of the gas are up to 4 times higher than previously thought—perhaps as high as 16 percent.

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With LCD televisions and thin film solar cells becoming more common, NF3 is following suit. Each year, NF3 production almost doubles.

And lest you think electronics companies are actually paying attention to NF3 production, well, they aren’t. There are no regulations for NF3, and companies aren’t required to keep records of its use.

But there is hope—companies such as Toshiba, Samsung, and LG have begun using an NF3 alternative (fluorine) that doesn”t pose a risk of global warming. Though the fluorine production system is not yet cheap enough for smaller manufacturers, increased awareness of NF3’s impact should put pressure on the semiconductor industry to eliminate it.

Photo Credit: National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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