Industrial giants GE and Hitachi ABB have inked a cross-license agreement to replace the use of sulfur hexafluoride – known as SF6, a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG) – with a fluoronitrile-based mixed gas for used as an insulator for high voltage (HV) electrical equipment and for switches.

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The deal to shift to GE’s so-called g3 fluoronitrile-based gas, said to “significantly” reduce the environmental impact of HV systems compared to SF6, the two said, would make possible solutions that do not use the standard SF6 for HV equipment in the coming years and so will allow utilities and industry to accelerate reductions in GHGs.

“Innovation in the transmission and distribution (T&D) world will be key to accelerating the energy transition,” said Vera Silva, CTO at GE’s Grid Solutions. “This [deal with ABB] will help pave the way for g3 to become the standard for such equipment and accelerate the electrical transmission industry’s shift away from the use of SF6 - the world’s most potent greenhouse gas.”

Silva said 23 utilities have already adopted GE’s g3 gas-insulated equipment for high voltage networks, removing the addition of over 1 million tons of CO₂ equivalent to the grid, equal to the emissions of 476,000 petrol cars on the road for one year.

“This is just a fraction of the impact that the technology will have as it scales up,” she said. “This opens up the door for the replacement of SF6, not only in new equipment but also retrofitting the installed base.”

For the last half-century, SF6 gas has been had mainstream use in the power T&D industry, but when emitted contributes to global heating.

A European Commission report last year recommended in certain cases a fluoronitrile-based mixture gas could be used alone for insulating or for switches to replace SF6.