DAA Daily

Nitrous oxide – The greenhouse gas that has been forgotten

Youssef Eid, Website editor, The Pawprint

With World Environment Day just passed (June 5) there continue to be greater efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Food production is one of the biggest emitters and the way we produce our food is unsustainable. Agriculture accounts for a quarter of climate change emissions. What people don’t realize is that a lot of the gases that cause global warming are not just from carbon dioxide and methane. They are from a gas called: nitrous oxide also known as N2O.

N2O, which has another name laughing gas, does not get nearly enough attention and has basically been forgotten. Laughing gas is no joke and its impact is huge.’’Scientists at the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have estimated that nitrous oxide comprises roughly 6% of greenhouse gas emissions, and about three-quarters of those N2O emissions come from agriculture. ‘’ said the BBC.

But yet N2O is 300 times as potent as carbon dioxide at heating the atmosphere. And it shares many of the same properties of carbon dioxide, it is long-lived, spending an average of 114 years in the atmosphere before disintegrating.It depletes the ozone layer.

Despite having a huge impact on climate change it has largely been ignored in climate policies. And the influence of the gas is rising. A 2020 review of nitrous oxide sources and sinks found that emissions rose to 30% in just the last four decades.

Scientists are working on alternatives in agriculture to cut down on N2O production.

“Anything that can be done to improve fertilizer use efficiency would be big,” says Michael Castellano, an agroecologist and soil scientist at Iowa State University.

This abundant use of synthetic fertilizers has helped feed people around the world, but this all comes at a cost producing synthetic fertilizers accounts for 1%of all global energy use and 1.4% of CO2 emissions which does not sound like much but it is a lot. 

The process requires an abundance of heating which requires nitrogen gas and subjecting it to pressures of up to 400 times the atmosphere which makes it very energy-intensive. ‘’More importantly, the fertilizer drives increased emissions of nitrous oxide because farmers tend to apply the nitrogen to their fields in a few large batches during the year, and crops can’t use it all.’’ said the BBC.

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