JAN 23, 2020 9:20 AM PST

Meet SF6, Our Frenemy in Fighting Climate Change

WRITTEN BY: Daniel Duan

Sulfur hexafluoride, or SF6, is a non-flammable, non-toxic, synthetic gas. First discovered back in 1901, this odorless and colorless gas is commonly used as an electrical insulator in high-voltage electrical apparatus.  

SF6 could have remained under the radar forever, but one of its chemo-physical properties make it stand out (in a terrible way) in the age of climate change. The fluorinated gas is 23,500 times more potent than carbon dioxide (CO2) as green-house gas (GHG), and it creates the highest warming effect among all known substances.

Let's do some math: the switchgear of a wind turbine contains up to 11 lbs of SF6. If for any reason all the gas leak into the atmosphere, it would cause a greenhouse effect equivalent to 117 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide. 

As more and more eco-friendly electricity-generating power plants such as wind farms and solar stations are being brought online, the need for SF6 gets bigger as well. It does seem that on our way to curb one greenhouse gas, we have unwittingly brought in another one. 

But fear not, scientists are working hard to devise methods to monitor and mitigate the release of SF6. More importantly, alternative materials and techniques for electrical insulation are being developed and implemented, so that we won't rely on SF6 alone (or at all) to build an electrified future.

Source: Seeker via Youtube

About the Author
  • Graduated with a bachelor degree in Pharmaceutical Science and a master degree in neuropharmacology, Daniel is a radiopharmaceutical and radiobiology expert based in Ottawa, Canada. With years of experience in biomedical R&D, Daniel is very into writing. He is constantly fascinated by what's happening in the world of science. He hopes to capture the public's interest and promote scientific literacy with his trending news articles. The recurring topics in his Chemistry & Physics trending news section include alternative energy, material science, theoretical physics, medical imaging, and green chemistry.
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