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  • FAQ Recycling Medium-Voltage Equipment — Part 1



Q: Does the law require the recycling of my obsolete medium-voltage electrical equipment?

A: The Kyoto Protocol has designated SF6 as a greenhouse gas. Its release to the atmosphere needs to be limited.

The strictest regulation is the European Regulation 517/2014. It states that the owner of electrical switchgear containing SF6 gas shall arrange for the recovery of any residual gases contained in the switchgear prior to its disposal, to make sure they are recycled, reclaimed, or destroyed. All SF6 handling shall be carried out by qualified personnel holding relevant training, examination, and certification. The purpose of these measures is to prevent SF6 from being released to the atmosphere.

In the USA, only certain states propose a regulation to limit SF6 emissions during the use phase, like California.

Other countries are preparing SF6 regulations, but nothing is yet in place.

Q: Can I keep my end-of-life medium-voltage electrical equipment as a spare part?

A: According to local country laws, it may be forbidden, since this is considered as storing waste products.

Q: What do I risk if I do not have my medium-voltage electrical equipment reprocessed?

A: If waste products are abandoned, dumped, or treated contrary to legal requirements, penalties may be applied by legal authorities. Legal authorities can then dispose of such waste products at the expense of the waste owner.

Q: How can I prove that I have had my medium-voltage electrical equipment reprocessed correctly?

A: Recovered SF6 is always packaged in containers with specific labelling, whether it is intended for recycling, regeneration, or incineration.

A switchgear containing SF6 gas is transported with a contractual document (sometimes called Waste Tracking Certificate) serving as traceability file.

As soon as you have recycled your medium-voltage electrical equipment, you will receive a destruction certificate in compliance with the regulations, which will serve as proof for the appropriate authorities.


Q: What is SF6 ?

A: Sulphur hexafluoride is a chemical compound consisting of one sulphur atom and six fluor atoms and whose chemical formula is SF6 . It is a synthetic, inert, odourless, and colourless gas.

Q: Is SF6 a dangerous gas?

A: No. In its pure state, SF6 is an odourless, non-toxic, and chemically inert gas. It is not classified in the dangerous substance category under the terms of the legislation on chemical products. It does not contain pollutants and is non-flammable.

Studies carried out by the electrical industry, and in particular by Schneider Electric, show that any leakages of used SF6 from equipment present no risk to human health.

Q: What are the emission impacts of SF6 on the environment?

A: SF6 does not present any danger to water or soils; it does not generate any biological buildup, nor does it damage the ozone layer. The risk posed by SF6 to the environment is its contribution to the greenhouse effect (and therefore to global warming) if is released to the atmosphere.

Q: How can the release of SF6 to the atmosphere be avoided?

A: Enclosures containing SF6 are sealed to prevent any risk of its being released to the atmosphere. This preventive approach is extended to all situations requiring work to be carried out on these enclosures, from the time the equipment is manufactured to the time it is dismantled at the end of its life.

Q: What is the equivalent in tons of CO2 of a kilogram of SF6 gas?

A: A kilogram of SF6 gas released to the atmosphere is equivalent to 23.9 tons of CO2, i.e. as much as an average car covering a distance of 160,000 km.

Q: How much SF6 is there in a medium-voltage cubicle?

A: The amount of SF6 contained in medium-voltage equipment varies greatly according to each product.
Examples of the amount of SF6 gas in Schneider Electric products:
Products Weight of SF6 gas (kg) CO2 imprint (tons)
Rollarc 0.107 2.5
SM6 IMB 0.210 5.0
SF1 circuit breaker 1250 A 0.62 14.8
Standard 3F RM6 1.767 42.2
GMSet 24 kV CL1 1250 A without AT 5.67 135.5
GM6/CL2 2500 A (36 kV / 700 mm) 14.94 357.1
Q: Why do we continue to buy equipment containing SF6?
A: SFis a gas that is unparalleled in medium-voltage electrical applications. Due to its dielectric properties, SFhas become the main fluid used in electrical switchgear. It ensures all high-voltage electrical interruption and insulation functions. The technical, economic, and safety performance of electrical equipment using SFis unrivalled to this day.
Due to its great stability and its capacity for immediate recomposition after electrical arcing, it contributes directly to the very long life of such equipment, currently more than 25 years. Furthermore, the characteristics of SFallow it to be recycled and reused.
Q: Will SFbe banned?
A: No, there is no restriction as to the use of SFgas. The only restrictions that may be envisaged concern the use of SFgas in fast-moving consumer goods and open processes. It is today commonly used in industrial and medical applications.
We cannot do without SFgas for breaking purposes and for secondary network applications. In high voltages above 36 kV, all electrical manufacturers use SFgas as an insulating medium.
Q: Is ‘vacuum’ technology less polluting?
A: Vacuum technology is neither more nor less polluting than SFtechnology.
Equipment using ‘vacuum’ or SF6 technologies is recycled using similar general processes. SFequipment contains SFgas. Vacuum equipment usually contains more plastic or more metal. The treatment of all these gaseous or solid substances is standard and well controlled.

For guidance on safe, legal methods for disposing of and recycling MV and HV equipment, read the Schneider Electric white paper SF6 End-of-life Recycling for Medium and High Voltage (MV & HV) Equipment
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