Volatile anesthetics, used in hospitals for a variety of purposes, are halogenated ethers that make carbon dioxide look like a wimpy greenhouse gas. Isoflurane is 1,100 times worse than CO2, Sevoflurane is 1,600 times worse, and Desflurane is 1,900 times worse. When these anesthetics are used on a patient only about 5 per cent is actually metabolized in the body. The remaining 95 per cent gets vented into the atmosphere. Blue-Zone Technologies Ltd. of Concord, Ontario, has developed both a device (Deltasorb) that can capture those volatile gases and a complementary process for extracting and recycling them. The company’s goal is to have one of its devices — essentially an absorption cannister — in every operating room in every hospital around the world. It would install the cannisters for free but would regularly replace them for a monthly service fee. The compounds in filled cannisters would be extracted and used as a raw material for producing new anesthetics, offering another revenue stream for the company.
It’s estimated that the average hospital, in Canada anyway, releases the equivalent of 1,275 tonnes of CO2 each year because of the venting of volatile anesthetics. That’s like adding 400 cars to the road. Now, I don’t want to exaggerate how much volatile anesthetics contribute to global warming. One 1999 British study, admittedly dated, estimated that such emissions represented just .03 per cent of total CO2-equivalent emissions.
All that said, these ethers represent a much larger percentage of total emissions in a hospital setting. Bottom line: Hospitals will have to deal with these emissions if they hope to avoid paying carbon penalties. Sure, it’s a niche market, but for any company that can take the lead it’s a big opportunity.