Nitric acid is one of the top chemicals in production around the world. Its primary application is in the manufacture of nitrogen-based fertilizers. It is also used in explosives, metallurgy, dyes, plastics, and pharmaceuticals. Other minor applications include water treatment, fibers and polymers manufacture, liquid-propellant for rockets, printmaking, and nuclear fuel reprocessing.
Human-influenced sources may account for as much as 40% of the total NOx released into the atmosphere. The laughing gas, nitrous oxide (N2O), is approximately accountable to 7% of the greenhouse gases. The concentration of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere has significantly increased from the pre-industrial period as compared in the last two decades.
As a waste by-product of nitric acid production, oxides of nitrogen (NOx) are very harmful to the environment and they can also aggravate the effects of climate change. Emissions from nitric acid manufacturing plants may not be as significant as those of combustion of fossil fuels but a small difference in the levels of nitrogen oxides released into the atmosphere will mean a big difference since they are very harmful greenhouse gases.
Biofuels are also contributors to nitrous oxide. Contrary to popular belief, a report from the International Council for Science (ICSU) concludes that biofuel production can aggravate global warming rather than alleviating its effects. The theory is that annual plants and crops such as corn, wheat and sugar cane take up carbon dioxide during their growth. Hence, fuels burned from them have no significant carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere.
The same study also supported an earlier finding which determined that nitrous oxide has a more harmful effect on the environment and the climate change phenomenon than previously believed. The ability of nitrous oxide in warming up the planet is 300 times more than carbon dioxide. It also stays longer in the atmosphere.
Nitrous oxide is a natural occurring gas in the atmosphere as a result of the nitrogen cycle but it is the rate at which its concentration increases and the factors which contribute to this increase that worries scientists and environmentalists. One of the greatest factors which most of them have seen is the anthropogenic sources such as nitric acid manufacturing plants.
Greenhouse effects cannot be ignored anymore. Climate change is upon us. The weather has become even more unpredictable than before. Studies have also identified that the main cause of this phenomenon are unchecked and negligent human practices.
As a result of industrialization, comforts have been afforded to us, such as electricity, transport, and other luxuries we now enjoy. But this comes with a price, the warming up of the planet.
Is this really worth it? Can we really afford the unpredictability of the weather today, the increase in intensity of natural disasters? The world has certainly begun to experience the effects of the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by the higher than normal temperatures, the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising sea levels.
We have to make a move now. A move to reduce our impacts on the environment, this especially goes to those who are in the position to make a significant change in reducing nitric acid production by-products. Owners and managers of plants and companies which use nitric acid must have proper processing and disposal strategies which are environment friendly.
But the responsibility doesn’t stop there. We must do our part as well. We are also stakeholders therefore we have to take responsibility. One thing is for sure though, we have to start today. This is because of the fact that the planet will continue to warm up for no less than 150 years due residence time of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. It will take a long, long time before the climate becomes stable.