GE aims to remove sulfur hexafluoride from electric gear
Gas has 23,500 times warming potential of CO2, doesn’t go away
The most potent greenhouse gas yet measured doesn’t spew by the ton from cars or trucks. You won’t find it in human breath, and cows don’t belch it.
Yet sulfur hexafluoride, or SF6, can do far more climate damage — pound for pound — than such better-known gases as carbon dioxide and methane. General Electric Co. is making a concerted push to eliminate SF6 from its main use: as an insulator for electric utility equipment.
GE Renewable Energy’s Grid Solutions unit plans to invest tens of millions of dollars in rolling out a complete line of SF6-free utility gear by 2025, using a replacement gas it developed with 3M Co. The company announced the move Thursday during Climate Week, joining other businesses that have announced new steps to fight warming.
Electric utilities have focused much of their climate change efforts on using more renewable power and plugging big batteries into the grid. But eliminating SF6 from their equipment gives them another tool, said Vera Silva, chief technology officer at Grid Solutions.
While the gas has strong insulating properties — useful in substation transformers and switch gear — it also has 23,500 times the warming potential of CO2, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And it doesn’t easily cycle out of the atmosphere, possibly lingering more than 3,000 years.
“We understood that our customers would be faced with making a choice, and they needed alternatives,” Silva said in an interview. “We can see a push from utilities to replace SF6.”
GE’s first “Green Gas for Grid” products have been in the field since 2017, deployed by 16 utilities to date. The electricity industry accounts for roughly 80% of the SF6 used worldwide, according to GE.
“I don’t see a reason why we won’t see a full replacement,” Silva said. “I would say this is quite a game-changing technology for us.”