Unlocking the Solution: Affordable and Effective Nitrous Oxide Emissions Reduction in Industry

Scientists have discovered a readily available and affordable method to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, specifically targeting nitrous oxide. This potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting substance can be effectively mitigated using existing technology in industrial sources.

Lead author Eric Davidson, a professor at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, emphasizes the urgency of addressing climate change by swiftly abating all greenhouse gas emissions. While reducing nitrous oxide emissions in agriculture is complex, mitigating it in industry is currently feasible and cost-effective. This represents a low-hanging fruit that can be swiftly addressed.

Nitrous oxide is the third most significant greenhouse gas, surpassed only by carbon dioxide and methane. Also known as laughing gas, it possesses a global warming potential almost 300 times that of carbon dioxide and has a long atmospheric lifetime of over 100 years. Furthermore, it contributes to the destruction of the protective ozone layer in the stratosphere, making the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions a double benefit for the environment and humanity.

In recent decades, the concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has been increasing at an accelerated rate, primarily due to rising agricultural emissions, which account for about two-thirds of global human-caused nitrous oxide emissions. However, reducing emissions from agricultural sources is challenging. Conversely, the industry and energy sectors can readily reduce nitrous oxide emissions to near-zero using existing low-cost technologies.

The chemical industry is a major contributor to industrial nitrous oxide emissions, particularly in the production of adipic acid (used in nylon production) and nitric acid (used in the manufacturing of nitrogen fertilizers, adipic acid, and explosives). Emissions also arise from fossil fuel combustion in manufacturing processes and internal combustion engines of vehicles.

Abatement of nitrous oxide emissions has already been proven feasible and affordable. The European Union’s emissions trading system has created financial incentives for companies to eliminate nitrous oxide emissions in all adipic acid and nitric acid plants. The German government is also providing funding for the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions from nitric acid plants in various low-income and middle-income countries.

The private sector, driven by consumer preferences for climate-friendly products, can also contribute significantly to nitrous oxide emissions reduction. For example, in the production of nylon products, which account for 65% of global nitrous emissions, automobile manufacturers can require supply chains to source nylon exclusively from plants implementing efficient nitrous oxide abatement technology.

The study, titled “Urgent abatement of industrial sources of nitrous oxide,” was published in Nature Climate Change and authored by Eric Davidson from the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and Spark Climate Solutions, and Wilfried Winiwarter from the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis in Austria and the Institute for Environmental Engineering at the University of Zielona Góra in Poland.

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