Nitrous oxide 1
Nitrous oxide molecule

A nitrous oxide molecule consists of two nitrogen atoms linked to one oxygen atoms. It has a Global Warming Potential of 310 over 100 years.

The third greenhouse gas – nitrous oxide (N2O) – is naturally present in the atmosphere and forms part of the nitrogen cycle. In this cycle, nitrogen forms part of many types of molecules in the atmosphere and in terrestrial and marine environments.

In a 2016 survey in the USA, nitrous oxide accounted for c. 6% of all greenhouse gases emitted. About 40% of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere comes from human activities.

Nitrous oxide is also produced by a number of processes:


The application of fertilizers, manure management and the burning of agricultural residues can produce nitrous oxide. The largest source in agriculture is through soil management which produces over 70% of the nitrous oxide in the USA.

Fuel combustion

Each type of fuel produces nitrous oxide on combustion but the amount generated varies considerably with the type of fuel.

Industry sources

The manufacture of nitric acid for the production of fertilizers results in the generation of nitrous oxide. It is also produced in the manufacture of synthetic fibers. 

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