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Climate change: Cushioned trainers containing sulphur hexafluoride, a greenhouse gas 23,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, have made global warming worse – Dr Richard Dixon

Climate change: Cushioned trainers containing sulphur hexafluoride, a greenhouse gas 23,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide, have made global warming worse – Dr Richard Dixon

Some people know that methane from landfills and agriculture is an important greenhouse gas. The vast majority of people don’t know much about methane, which is 23,000 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide. It has been used for years in electrical switches and cushioned trainers.

Sulphur Hexafluoride, also known as SF6, is a non-toxic, colourless and odourless gas that has been created by humans. It was discovered in 1901 and is used primarily as an insulating gas in electrical switchgear, but also in metal production, as well as as a tracer gas to monitor pollutants’ movements, and even to drive torpedoes. It was also used in the late 1990s to cushion shoes and airborne military radar.

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SF6 has made a positive environmental and public health impact by replacing toxic polychlorinated bephenyls (PCBs) in large electrical transformers. Unfortunately, there is a dark secret to SF6: It is a very potent greenhouse gases.

Scotland’s climate laws target two groups and two individual industrial chemicals containing fluorine, known collectively as the F-gases, in addition to carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide. SF6 is the most harmful for climate. One molecule traps more heat than nearly 23,000 molecules carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. It is expected that it will remain in the atmosphere for over 3,000 years after being released.

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COP26 climate change summit: World is acting too slowly on global warming – Roya…

When a certain well-known brand of footwear makers realised they were selling shoes containing one of the world’s worst climate-wrecking gases, they leapt into action to look for an alternative. After more than ten years, they concluded the answer was… nitrogen. You know, the gas that makes up 80 per cent of the Earth’s atmosphere, is the most common pure element on the planet and is the seventh most common element in the whole galaxy. It is hard to believe how hard they looked.

Our SF6 emissions in Scotland are declining and are fortunately very low. Between 1990 and 2019, emissions rose to a peak of around 2000. They then fell very sharply and have been relatively flat for the past decade with a reduction of almost 20% since 1990.

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The way that their footwear was made may have contributed to climate change unwittingly for joggers (Picture: Ross Land/Getty Image)

The military use has declined to almost zero, so the remaining challenge is to find a replacement for electrical systems that use SF6. The majority of uses are in closed systems, so emissions are caused by equipment being destroyed or leaking. This makes it difficult to estimate the actual emissions.

A European law requires that the combined F gases sales must be reduced by at least two-thirds by 2030. This is in contrast to 2014 levels. The EU is currently reviewing the effectiveness of this law. If you are looking to make or sell F gases, there is a quota system in place. However due to Brexit, this law and its goals will now need to translated into a UK law or a Scottish law.

Every bit helps in the fight to reduce global warming emissions. If you don’t act, even a small contribution today, it will soon become a much bigger problem when we reach zero emissions in future.

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