SF₆-free switchgear

Learn how SFgas impacts our environment and discover how Eaton has been pioneering SF6-free switchgear for the past 60 years. It’s in our hands to change the world. 

What is SF₆ gas and how does it impact the environment?

SF6 or sulphur hexafluoride is a colourless, odourless, synthetic gas. It has a profound chemical robustness that protects it from reaction. Its high dielectric strength, which increases further under pressure, makes it an excellent electrical insulator. 

According to the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, SF6 tops the list of the most potent greenhouse gases, with a global warming potential 23,500 times greater than that of CO2 over a 100-year period. As it is not absorbed or destroyed naturally, SF6 can remain active in the atmosphere for up to 3,200 years. In addition, there are health and safety issues concerning toxic by-products that result from arcs, discharges and sparks on SF6.


Switchgear is the last remaining loophole for SF₆ gas emissions

In the 2014 update of the F-gas Regulation, the EU banned the use of SF₆ in the manufacture of many common items, including tennis balls, sports shoes, car tires and double-glazed windows. The EU Commission decided against a ban of SF6 in switchgear, claiming that there were no widespread cost-effective, technically feasible, energy-efficient and reliable alternatives.

Even with the ban for all other applications, scientific studies show that the concentration of SF₆ gas in the atmosphere continues to rise – a trend that is likely to accelerate due to the ever increasing demand for energy.

emissions caused by the energy industry
2.5 kg
used in one switchgear on average
times greater global warming potential than CO₂*
3,200 y
remaining active in the atmosphere
*over a 100-year period

It is time to end the use of SF6 in switchgear!

The global gas-insulated switchgear market for medium voltage is forecast to grow over 8 % per annum through 2022. In certain markets, minimising or eliminating SF6 emissions is increasingly prioritised. Currently, however, even best practices are self-imposed and not widespread due to scant legal obligation on SF6 emissions. Since switchgear typically has a lifetime of 40-50 years, it is critical to act now. Eaton, along with many other industry voices, is calling for an immediate ban of SFgas in medium-voltage switchgear up to 36 kV.

Solar panels and blue sky

I will tell you, everyone in this industry knows you can do this; there is not a technical reason not to do it. It’s not really economic; it’s more a question that change takes effort and if you don’t have to, you won’t do it.

Source: BBC

Louis Shaffer, Eaton, for BBC
engineer solar panel energy photovoltaic getty 155280162

There are cost-effective, technically feasible and reliable alternatives

SF₆-free alternatives exist in the market, such as the vacuum technology that Eaton pioneered 60 years ago. This isn’t a new technology.

For example, Eaton’s Xiria ring main unit was launched in 2002 and over 100,000 units have been sold since then, proving the market’s trust in SF6-free technology. Using vacuum as the switching medium and solid epoxy resin for the insulation, the equipment is as compact or more so than equivalent gas-insulated alternatives.