What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (2024)

Here at DILO, we sure do talk a lot about SF6. It’s our job, as the SF6 experts! What is sulfur hexafluoride used for? The electrical industry accounts for 80% of SF6 gas usage, but some of its other applications might surprise you. Click below to read more.

SF6 gas is not well known in most households, but the gas impacts your life more than you know. What is SF6 gas and what is it used for? SF6's compound name is Sulfur hexafluoride and it is a manmade gas that is non-toxic, inert, and denser than air. For any chemistry buffs, SF6’s structure consists of six fluorine atoms bonded with one sulfur atom at the center. The unique properties of SF6 gas make it an ideal gas for a variety of applications, from the substations that power your home to components in our beloved cell phones. In fact, you probably use devices that contain or use SF6 in some way much more than you think!

SF6 in the Electrical Power Industry

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (1)

The most common use of SF6 gas is as an insulating and arc quenching gas in medium and high voltage circuit breakers and electrical equipment such as gas-insulated switchgear. The chemical properties of SF6 gas- it’s inert, non-toxic, and thermally stable- make it ideal for this application. SF6 gas emissions are a valid concern in the electrical industry; however, properly trained personnel and best-practices employed during gas handling procedures can prevent SF6 emissions. If you’d like to learn more about SF6 use in the electrical industry, check out this blog post. The T&D Industry is not the only user of SF6 gas, and today we will focus on less common uses of Sulfur hexafluoride.

Sulfur Hexafluoride (SF6) Use in Ophthalmology - Saving Your Eyesight

If you’ve ever had eye surgery to repair cataracts, genetic disorders, or trauma, you may have had SF6 injected into your eye. A vitrectomy is an eye surgery performed to treat problems with the retina and vitreous, the gel like material in the middle of your eye. During this surgery, an ophthalmologist will remove the vitreous to gain access to the retina.

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (2)

The vitreous helps the retina stay in place, so the surgeon must replace this substance with something else. This is where SF6 gas comes in. The ophthalmologist may inject sulfur hexafluoride to fill the void left by the removed vitreous gel. The SF6 gas helps keep the retina stable to allow the eye to properly heal. SF6 gas has a much higher density than air, so it takes the body 3-4 weeks to absorb it compared to 1-3 weeks for air. Therefore, it is vital to avoid flying for a minimum of 3-4 weeks after an eye surgery that uses SF6 gas. At the high altitudes reached in an airplane, the gas expands and can seriously damage the surrounding eye tissue.

SF6 Gas in The Shoe Industry

When Nike originally manufactured the popular Air shoes, Freon was chosen as the gas to keep the air pockets inflated. In 1989, after Freon was no longer produced, Nike switched to using SF6 gas in its Air shoes. SF6 is non-flammable and the molecules are quite large, making it a good choice at the time for the application because the gas stayed in the shoe for a long time.

Nike reached the peak of its SF6 usage in 1997 when it learned of the effects of SF6 emissions on the atmosphere. SF6 is the most potent greenhouse gas known to man and even in low concentrations it remains in the atmosphere for 3,200 years. There were no regulations on SF6 gas at the time, but Nike set a goal to discontinue the use of SF6 in its shoes by 2000. It took Nike years of R&D to find a suitable alternative and the company had to extend their deadline to discontinue SF6 use to 2006. Nike now uses nitrogen in their Nike Air shoes.

Sulfur Hexafluoride as an Etching Gas

SF6 is used as an etching gas in the manufacture of semiconductor devices, photovoltaic panels, flat panels, and Micro-Electro-Mechanical-Systems. The unique properties of Sulfur hexafluoride, in this case the high density and large molecule size, make it one of the preferred etching gases in this industry.

Many consumer products that you may use in everyday life contain semiconductors. These items include cell phones, cameras, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, and LED bulbs. Due to concerns about global warming potential (GWP), alternative etching gases are being researched for the semiconductor industry.

SF6 Use in Particle Accelerators

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (3)

SF6 is used as the insulating gas of the accelerator tank in particle accelerators. Particle accelerators use electric fields to propel beams of charged particles, such as protons or electrons, at extremely high speeds.

These particles travel inside a vacuum tube and are steered or focused by electromagnets. The particles are collided into each other or at another target. Particles and radiation created by the collision is recoded by detectors. Scientists then study the results to better understand matter, physical laws, and even the origins of the universe. Particle accelerators can also be used in radiation therapy to treat cancer patients, national security applications such as inspecting cargo ships, and a variety of other industries.

Sulfur Hexafluoride as a Noise Reducer in Windows

SF6 is a dense gas that is gaseous at normal temperatures and atmospheric pressures. Some double pane windows use a mixture of SF6 and argon gas to fill the space between the panes of glass. The gas mixture absorbs acoustic waves and reduces the volume of noise from the outside of the window. The IPCC estimates that 33% of the SF6 gas purchased for use in soundproof window is released during manufacturing and 1% annually thereafter. Soundproof windows that use SF6 gas have been or are being phased out in most countries around the world.

SF6 Used in the Magnesium Industry

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (4)

SF6 was commonly used as a cover gas in magnesium production and helps prevent the magnesium from reacting with oxygen. Again, the density of SF6 compared to air is the characteristic that makes it useful in this application. SF6 is being phased out of magnesium production in Europe and the United States due to more environmentally friendly alternatives now on the market, but SF6 is still used as a cover gas in China and other countries. Magnesium is used in many different products and industries including automobiles, aerospace, and portable electronics.

Summary: SF6 Gas Uses and Emission Potential

There are many uses for SF6 gas aside from the Electric Power Transmission and Distribution Industry and the above is not an exhaustive list. SF6’s unique properties make it applicable to a wider variety of applications. It is an excellent thermal insulator, has high dielectric strength, high density, and is non-toxic in its pure form. SF6, although relatively unknown as a gas, is important to our lives.

Perhaps the most drastic effect it has on our lives is its position as the most potent greenhouse gas known to man. Although SF6 gas makes up a fraction of the greenhouse gases found in the atmosphere, it’s important to reduce and eliminate emissions due to its atmospheric lifetime of 3,200 years. Over a 100-year period, SF6 is 22,800 times more effective at trapping heat than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. Alternatives to SF6 gas are being developed for a variety of industries, but SF6 will likely be in use in a variety of industries for the next few decades at least. Therefore, it is important to invest in emission-free SF6 gas handling and leak detection equipment as well as training for SF6 users. These are steps companies and industries can take today to do their part to eliminate SF6 emissions.

SF6 Gas Management Seminar

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (5)

Training for Proper SF6 Gas Handling

In the realm of zero-emission gas handling, a considerable amount of SF6 gas handling equipment is utilized. A crucial measure for preventing SF6 emissions involves adequately training personnel involved in gas handling. Despite having cutting-edge equipment, an unqualified or untrained technician may inadvertently contribute to SF6 emissions.

Are you seeking training opportunities for yourself or your team? The Insulating Gas Management Seminar in February 2024 offers a cost-effective and valuable avenue to gain insights from industry experts. Engage in hands-on break-out sessions to enhance your understanding.

Feel free to reach out with any queries regarding gas handling or equipment. DILO is dedicated to preventing SF6 emissions, and our team of SF6 experts is always ready to assist!

What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo (2024)


What is Sulfur Hexafluoride Used For? (Sf6 Gas) | Dilo? ›

As mentioned, SF6 is primarily employed for electrical utility purposes. The gas has high dielectric strength and superior insulating capabilities for medium and high-voltage equipment . SF6 gas is also very effective in quenching arcs that form when electrical currents switch on and off.

What is sulfur hexafluoride SF6 used for? ›

Uses of Sulphur Hexafluoride – SF

Used as an electrical insulation, arc quenching and cooling medium in electrical switchgear, transformers and substations. Used as etching gasses for plasma etching or as cleaning gasses for cleaning chambers after the etching process in the semiconductor industry.

What is the purpose of SF6 gas? ›

SF6 is used in accelerators in particle physics as an insulating gas to prevent electrical breakdown and maintain stable electric fields. It is also used as a quenching medium to suppress electrical arcs that may occur, ensuring the safety and efficient operation of the accelerator components.

How is SF6 used in the real world? ›

What is SF6 used for? Around 80% of the SF6 used globally is in electricity transmission and distribution. Medium- and high-voltage electrical equipment contains SF6 to insulate the live electrical parts and to switch the flow of electrical current on and off.

Is SF6 gas harmful to humans? ›

* Breathing Sulfur Hexafluoride can irritate the nose and throat. * Breathing Sulfur Hexafluoride may irritate the lungs causing coughing and/or shortness of breath. Higher exposures can cause a build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema), a medical emergency, with severe shortness of breath.

Why is SF6 banned? ›

The environmental concern around SF6 gas is rooted in its GWP which is approximately 23,500 times of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. As a result, even minor releases of SF6 into the atmosphere can significantly contribute to global warming and climate change.

Is SF6 gas explosive? ›

The material safety data sheet (MSDS) for SF6 indicates that it is non-combustible and non-flammable. However, standard safety procedures for handling pressurized gas cylinders and equipment should be followed (see HSS Safety Bulletin 2007-01, http://www.hss.energy.gov/ CSA/csp/safety_bulletins/SB_2007-01. pdf).

What is the major drawback of using SF6? ›

Disadvantages: SF6 breakers are costly due to the high cost of SF6. Since SF6 gas has to be reconditioned after every operation of the breaker, additional equipment is required for this purpose.

How is SF6 used in the military? ›

Because SF6 is non- flammable, nontoxic and a strong dielectric (providing excellent electrical insulation), it is a critical material in a host of Navy applications including the MK 50 torpedo, electric switchgear on shoreside power facilities, submarine countermeasures and mine hunting and in radar domes.

Is SF6 still used? ›

Because of its unique dielectric properties, electric utilities rely heavily on SF6 in electric power systems for voltage electrical insulation, current interruption, and arc quenching in the transmission and distribution of electricity. Yet, it is also the most potent greenhouse gas known to-date.

Is SF6 a flammable gas? ›

At environmental temperatures sulphur hexafluoride is a colourless, odourless, non-toxic gas of high chemical stability and inertness. It is also non-flammable and about 5 times heavier than air-one of the heaviest known gases.

Does SF6 destroy the ozone? ›

Is SF6 gas harmful to the environment? This gas does not deplete the ozone layer or cause air pollution. It is, however, almost 24,000 times more effective than carbon dioxide (CO2) at trapping heat, making SF6 a very potent greenhouse gas.

Is SF6 a green house gas? ›

Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is a greenhouse gas and has a very high radiative forcing effect and a GWP of 22,800 compared with a figure of 1 for carbon dioxide. Emissions occur due to its use in a small number of applications.

What does SF6 smell like? ›

SF6 byproducts such as SOF3 and SF4 have a strong irritating “rotten egg” odor at low concentrations, and, at high concentrations, are irritating to the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs (U.S. EPA 2001; NLM 2001).

What is sulfur hexafluoride used for in everyday life? ›

Insulated glazing windows have used it as a filler to improve their thermal and acoustic insulation performance. breaks down in the plasma into sulfur and fluorine, with the fluorine ions performing a chemical reaction with silicon.

What is the lifespan of SF6? ›

SF6 – the most potent greenhouse gas in the world

On top of this, the gas is extremely long-lived: SF6's atmospheric lifetime is 3,200 years, which is well beyond CO2's 100-200- year lifetime (3).

Does SF6 make your voice deeper? ›

⁠ ⁠ Sulfur Hexafluoride is an inert gas that is known to be six times heavier than the air we breathe. While Helium being lighter makes our voice higher, SF6 makes our voice deeper. The sound travels slower in denser gases which is why our voice will come out deeper and rather slow.

How toxic is sulfur hexafluoride? ›

SF6 is a non-toxic, odorless gas with few, if any, potential health effects. It is extremely unlikely that the general public or workers would be exposed to concentrations of sulfur hexafluoride resulting in any health effects.

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