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© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 11 Mar 2020

Submitted as: research article | 11 Mar 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal ACP.

The increasing atmospheric burden of the greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)

Peter G. Simmonds1, Matthew Rigby1, Alistair J. Manning4, Sunyoung Park8, Kieran M. Stanley1,10, Archie McCulloch1, Stephan Henne2, Francesco Graziosi11, Michela Maione11, Jgor Arduini11, Stefan Reimann2, Martin K. Vollmer2, Jens Mühle3, Simon O'Doherty1, Dickon Young1, Paul B. Krummel5, Paul J. Fraser5, Ray F. Weiss3, Peter K. Salameh3, Christina M. Harth3, Mi-Kyung Park9, Hyeri Park9, Tim Arnold12,13, Chris Rennick12, L. Paul Steele5, Blagoj Mitrevski5, Ray H. J. Wang6, and Ronald G. Prinn7 Peter G. Simmonds et al.
  • 1School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Bristol, UK
  • 2Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, Laboratory for Air Pollution and Environmental Technology (Empa), Dübendorf, Switzerland
  • 3Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California, USA
  • 4Met Office Hadley Centre, Exeter, UK
  • 5Climate Science Centre, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Oceans and Atmosphere, Aspendale, Victoria, Australia
  • 6School of Earth, and Atmospheric Sciences, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
  • 7Centerfor Global Change Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA
  • 8Department of Oceanography, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, Republic of Korea
  • 9Kyungpook Institute of Oceanography, Kyungpook National University, Daegu, Republic of Korea
  • 10Institute for Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, Goethe University Frankfurt, Germany
  • 11Department of Pure and Applied Sciences (DISPEA) of the University of Urbino and Institute of Atmospheric Sciences and Climate (ISAC) of the National Research Council (CNR), Bologna, Italy
  • 12National Physical Laboratory, Teddington, UK
  • 13School of GeoSciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

Abstract. We report a 40-year history of SF6 atmospheric mole fractions measured at the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE) monitoring sites, combined with archived air samples to determine emission estimates from 1978–2018. Previously we reported a global emission rate of 7.3 ± 0.6 Gigagrams (Gg) yr−1 in 2008 and over the past decade emissions have continued to increase by about 24 % to 9.04 ± 0.35 Gg yr−1 in 2018. We show that changing patterns in SF6 consumption from developed (Kyoto Protocol Annex-1) to developing countries (non-Annex-1) and the rapid global expansion of the electric power industry, mainly in Asia, have increased the demand for SF6-insulated switchgear, circuit breakers and transformers. The large bank of SF6 sequestered in this electrical equipment provides a substantial source of emissions from maintenance, replacement and continuous leakage. Other emissive sources of SF6 occur from the magnesium, aluminium, electronics industries and more minor industrial applications. More recently, reported emissions, including those from electrical equipment and metal industries, primarily in the Annex-1 countries, have steadily declined through substitution of alternative blanketing gases and technological improvements in less emissive equipment and more efficient industrial practices. Conversely, in the non-Annex-1 countries SF6 emissions have increased due to an expansion in the growth of the electrical power, metal and electronics industries to support their development.

There is an annual difference of 2.5–5 Gg yr−1 (1990–2018) between our modelled top-down emissions and the UNFCCC reported bottom-up emissions, which we attempt to reconcile through analysis of the potential contribution of emissions from the various industrial applications which use SF6. We also investigate regional emissions in East Asia (China, S. Korea) and Western Europe and their respective contributions to the global atmospheric SF6 inventory. On an average annual basis, our estimated emissions from the whole of China are approximately 10 times greater than emissions from Western Europe. In 2018, our modelled Chinese and Western European emissions accounted for ~ 36 % and 3.1 %, respectively, of our global SF6 emissions estimate.

Peter G. Simmonds et al.

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Peter G. Simmonds et al.

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Short summary
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is a potent greenhouse gas which is regulated under the Kyoto Protocol. From a 40-year record of measurements, collected at 5 global monitoring sites and archived air samples, we show that its concentration in the atmosphere has steadily increased. Using modelling techniques we estimate that global emissions have increased by about 24 % over the past decade. We find that this increase has been driven by the demand for SF6-insulated switchgear in developing countries.
Sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) is a potent greenhouse gas which is regulated under the Kyoto...