The sky is falling. According to some confirmed sensationalists, flat panel displays destroy the ozone. After studying “NF3, the Greenhouse Gas Missing from Kyoto” by Professor Michael Prather of UC Irvine in Geophysical Research Letters and perusing reports by UN and US agencies, I conclude the sky is not falling, but that we should keep it up.
The furor over flat panel production arose from Professor Prather’s statement that the potential effect of nitrogen fluoride (NF3) on global warming is greater than the effect of CO2 emissions. He is an acknowledged expert in this field and I am inclined to agree with him. In fact, his letter provides important updates to the measurement of NF3 and its long-term effect on our upper atmosphere. What some journalists failed to note is that dire consequences would arise only if all of the NF3 used in industry escaped into the atmosphere. In reality, only 3% to 4% does. I believe the professor’s main point was that institutions should revise their metrics for NF3, add this gas to the list of substances they monitor and help develop economic alternatives to its use.
As noted by professor Prather and experts in the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), NF3 is a cost-effective means of cleaning process chambers used by semiconductor and flat panel producers. According to the EPA, the global warming impact of NF3 was less than the impact of CF4 or SF6 were in 2006 even if we use the new global warming potential metrics proposed by professor Prather. All such materials benefit the semiconductor and flat panel industries. They therefore benefit all downstream commercial activity including our enjoyment of products as consumers. While we should consider ways to use such materials safely and perhaps replace them with more benign ones, we should not, “throw the baby out with the bath water.”
I believe the proper way to assess the “carbon footprint” of any product is to evaluate the whole path taken from raw materials to product disposal/recycle. As someone who has written capital plans for more than $10 billion dollars of TFT LCD capacity, I will be the first to admit that producing flat panels requires a lot of energy and a number of hazardous materials. On the other hand, assembling, packaging, transporting and using products made with flat panels require less energy than alternative technologies require. I assume that if we measure the carbon path taken by flat panel products over their lifetime we will find that the world is a better place. Flat panels are green.