SF6 is the world’s most potent manmade greenhouse gas. It is also in common use, insulating switchgear for medium and high-voltage electrical transmission. In this episode of Climatic, Nuventura co-founder Fabian Lemke explains how new technologies could made SF6 obsolete.

Climatic is ADB Ventures’ series about the innovators decarbonizing Asia and the Pacific. It is produced by the Asian Development Bank and ADB Ventures with financial support from the Climate Investment Funds’ Clean Technology Fund program. The latest Climatic video series features interviews with innovators, investors, and infrastructure operators who are working to make electricity grids stronger, greener, and more resilient.


Linh Thai  00:05

Hello and welcome back to Climatic. In this series, we're looking at how to make our electrical grids greener and more resilient. We'll be speaking to those at the cutting edge of grid innovation, people driving change across a system that's become central to our modern way of life. Our electrical grids have changed a little in the last 100 years. But with renewable energy continuing to boom, and millions more electric vehicles are set to take to the streets, it feels like we're on the cusp of a fundamental change in the way our grids operate. Simply put, they need to be smarter, stronger, and greener. But as an investor, I'm not only interested in the environmental impacts of new innovations, I want to know where's the smart money going? Because where there's change, there's opportunity. To help guide me through this sector, we have innovators, investors and infrastructure operators ready to shine a light on the most exciting developments across grid tech. Stay tuned.

First up is Fabian Lemke, co-founder at Nuventura. Thank you for joining me, Fabian. There are many well-known approaches to try to reduce the impact of climate change, such as renewable energy. With Nuventura, you've been working to eliminate a little-known element from our electrical grids called SF6. What is SF6? And why did you decide to work on this problem?

Fabian Lemke  01:23

So SF6 is a gas. It's a synthetic gas that is made by humans, there is no natural source for it. And it's a very good gas with very good technical properties for electrical insulation and electrical applications. But unfortunately, it is a greenhouse gas – in fact, the strongest greenhouse gas that scientists know. So one kilogram of SF6 has the same effect in the atmosphere as 25,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide.

Linh Thai  01:55

Well, that's a huge figure.

Fabian Lemke  01:56

Yeah, it's a very, very strong greenhouse gas. And that is also why we're trying to avoid it.

Linh Thai  02:03

Now that I know how damaging SF6 is, my next thought is how much of it is produced each year? And why is it still being produced?

Fabian Lemke  02:11

Every year, we are adding roughly 10,000 tons of SF6 to our global stock. And this is mostly going into switchgear, an electrical application that is needed for our electricity grids, in the medium and high voltage grids. And these 10,000 tons – this is an equivalent of the emissions of 100 million cars every year.

Linh Thai  02:34

That's an incredible figure. I think most people would be in favor of eliminating the emissions from 100 million cars. It's very clear that SF6 is damaging to our environment. But what can be done about it? Do you have a solution to replace it?

Fabian Lemke  02:48

Now we came up with an alternative to SF6 in such a way that we have developed gas insulated switchgear with the same properties, the same advantages. But instead of SF6, we are actually using what we call dry air. And this is basically breathable air. It's the natural components of air, oxygen and nitrogen, but it doesn't have any moisture and it doesn't have any trace gases. So, it's a kind of purified air, but it is air.

Linh Thai  03:18

It's great news that you've developed the sustainable alternative to SF6. The next question is, who do you need to convince to start using it, who uses SF6 the most?

Fabian Lemke  03:28

So, the grid or GIS as such, are using approximately 80% of all SF6 that is being produced. That is quite certain. Now, if you look at who's actually the users of switchgear and GIS then you would have to basically say that 50% is the grid operators themselves, because they provide the grid, but the other 50% as industry applications, so, every factory, every large shopping mall, hospitals, they are also very often using a gas-insulated switchgear. And then you would also of course, have the renewable energies which have to be connected to the grid and they usually also are connected in the medium voltage or high voltage grids. So they, again, would also be using switchgear for the connection and depending on where they are situated, there is no other option but using gas insulated switchgear.

Linh Thai  04:30

From what you say, Fabian, gas insulated switchgear, or GIS, is essentially used everywhere, even for otherwise clean sources of energy such as solar and wind. But how do you convince businesses to move away from this tried-and-tested technology and to begin using your dry air solution?

Fabian Lemke  04:47

The current expectation of the industry is that an SF6 phase out will be decided, which means that over a certain period of a couple of years in the EU, SF6 will be completely banned from GIS applications.

Linh Thai  05:04

So it's policy that has to drive this change, and you just mentioned the EU. But what about here in Asia Pacific? We have huge rapidly developing populations who will need greater access to power over the coming years.

Fabian Lemke  05:16

Current levels of SF6 users will grow by 75% over the next five years. And this growth is mostly coming from Asian countries. The reason for that is that these countries are now on the verge to switching towards this gas insulated switchgear where in the past they have been using other technologies that are maybe less reliable and bulkier. So they are going to replace this. Now it is on us actually to avoid that and let them make sort of a jump towards a more sustainable solution, which can be provided through trial solution. So this is actually a critical moment for the Asian continent. And it could also be a moment where the Asian continent is ahead of the world to switch from SF6 to much more sustainable solutions.

Linh Thai  06:11

Before speaking with Fabian, I wouldn’t have thought that this little gas SF6 was such a potent contributor to global warming. It's thanks to the dedicated team such as Nuventura that we are able to look for innovative new ways to bring truly green power to businesses and households. But how do we build a green and resilient grid? What are the policies that will shape it and the technologies that will make it a reality? Find out on the next episode of Climatic.