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ABB’s SF6 substitute promises “more eco-efficient switchgear”



August 19, 2014 – ABB reports it has “achieved a significant breakthrough” in switchgear technology with the development of a solution that deploys a new insulation gas mixture as a substitute for sulphur hexafluoride (SF6).

“This is a significant achievement and can pave the way for more eco-efficient switchgear in the years ahead,” said Bernhard Jucker, head of ABB’s Power Products division (photo). “It will enable our customers to lower environmental impact and is very much in line with ABB’s ongoing commitment to technology and innovation to enable power and productivity for a better world.”

This alternate gas mixture has similar insulation properties as SF6 gas now used in switchgear, says ABB, but can lower the environmental impact due to its low global warming potential. The company’s gas-insulated switchgear (GIS) with the new gas mixture has the potential to lower CO2 equivalent emissions by up to 50% through the lifecycle of the equipment, says ABB, as compared to its predecessor with the same rating (see infographic).

SF6 gas has been used extensively in the electrical industry for dielectric insulation and current interruption due to its physical properties, explains ABB. Pressurized SF6 gas aids the safe and reliable operation of GIS because it has a higher dielectric strength than other insulation media, making it possible to reduce the size of switchgear installations and enable installation in areas where space is at a premium. However, SF6’s lifecycle management requires careful handling for utility and industrial users, notes the company. The cost of managing it in a compliant manner can also be substantial, particularly when decommissioning aging substations.

The new technology will be deployed for the first time at a substation located in Zurich as a pilot installation for a Swiss utility.