New molecule could be key to stopping climate change

Posted by British Gas in Our World, Smarter Living, Innovation, Renewable Energy

climate change

Climate change is without doubt one of the biggest challenges to face humanity this century. Wherever you stand on the debate, it's one that has captivated the minds of a generation. Now scientists based in the UK believe they are one step closer to understanding the atmospheric developments that affect these global changes.

Researchers have revealed that they've been able to calculate the impact the Criegee biradical (also known as the Criegee intermediate) – a molecule found in the atmoshphere that may be crucial to halting the advance of climate change.

How? Well (deep breath), Criegee biradicals form in the atmosphere when ozone reacts with an alkene. The molecules that form are without two chemical bonds and, as a result, can react with pollutants such as nitrous oxide, sulfuric dioxide and nitric oxide. This reaction creates aerosols – miniscule particles that have the capacity to reflect solar radiation away from the Earth.

In simple terms, this means that more heat is reflected away, as if the Earth were surrounded by a mirror, rather than getting through the atmosphere and then becoming trapped inside – the greenhouse effect.

Now, this whole theory was hypothesized over 50 years ago by German scientist Rudolf Criegee (hence the name Criegee biradical), but it's only as a result of this recent research, scientists say, that the real cooling power of this effect has been realized.

The theory would be that, could these Criegee biradicals be produced artificially in the right way, they could be used to geo-engineer the atmosphere – helping to stave off global warming for the long term. However, researchers have been quick to emphasise that they're not yet anywhere near producing them in this way. The point of the research, they say, is that given 90% of the alkenes that react with ozone in the Earth's atmosphere to Criegee biradicals are produced by the Earth's ecosystems (that is, from plants), the best way to maintain the production of these molecules is to protect the environments on Earth where the necessary gases come from. Yet more scientific evidence, then, that we need to be looking after our planet.

But while the rainforests might seem a long way away, we can all do our bit to look after the global environment closer to home, starting of course with the way we use our energy. Cutting the amount of energy we use, and also the type (by using renewable sources), can have a major impact on all our individual carbon outputs. And when it comes to carbon footprints, one small step for man can be a giant leap for mankind.

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