Wind turbines emit powerful greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride; Germany has highest levels in Europe
While Germany races to build wind farms, there is cause for concern, with a chemical identified as the strongest greenhouse gas in the world being emitted from wind turbines.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, SF6 is a climate killer. In fact, it is 26,087 times more harmful to the climate than carbon dioxide.
Sulfur hexafluoride is a gas that industrial companies consider to be the perfect insulator, and while banned by many other manufacturing sectors, it is still widely used in wind turbines, mainly in electronic switchgears, i.e., the “nodes” in which the electrical energy is distributed. When there is little space to work with, such inside wind turbines, the gas provides excellent insulation while allowing extra space for vital machinery and parts.
Once this substance enters the atmosphere, it takes more than 3,000 years for SF6 to decompose again and become inert, according to a report from German media outlet Taggeschau.
It has been known for decades how dangerous the substance is. As early as 1997, the Kyoto Protocol stipulated that emissions of SF6 must be limited. Although it has been phased out, it is still permitted in electronic switchgear, and there are no legal restrictions for its usage in this area. Industry instead made a voluntary commitment to reduce its usage, to use it in closed systems, and to recycle and neutralize it at the end of its practical use. The 1998 commitment also stipulated that companies would record and report how much they use and recycle.