Deutsche Bahn speeds ahead of the regulatory curve with ABB SF6-free switchgear technology

Deutsche Bahn speeds ahead of the regulatory curve with ABB SF6-free switchgear technology

  • Germany’s largest railway operator Deutsche Bahn keeps one step ahead of impending F-gas regulation with Europe’s first SF6-free PrimeGear™ ZX0 switchgear
  • Deutsche Bahn pivots to sustainable gas mixture AirPlus™ as alternative with almost zero global warming impact
  • While ensuring maximum safety, highest reliability and reducing overall cost of ownership by up to 30 percent

Germany’s national railway company Deutsche Bahn which carries around 4.8 billion passengers a year, has ambitious plans to decarbonize its network by 2040. The company’s general contractor Rail Power Systems GmbH (RPS) awarded ABB the contract to supply its first three phase gas insulated switchgear (GIS) solution free of sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) as part of the project to supply four charging substations dedicated to battery powered trains for Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost state of Germany.

The order is based on a requirement by Deutsche Bahn to eliminate the greenhouse gas SF6 – the world's most potent greenhouse gas – in its switchgear. ABB's unique technology replaces SF6 with AirPlus, a sustainable gas mixture with ~100% less global warming potential.

Although SF6 has a high global warming potential 25,200 times that of CO2 and lasts around 3,200 years in the atmosphere, its excellent insulation qualities have meant it is still commonly used in electrical switchgear. As part of a €13bn investment1 in its ‘Green Transformation’, implementation of ABB’s SF6 free gas insulated switchgear PrimeGear ZX0 with AirPlus will support Deutsche Bahn’s ambitious plans to decarbonize its network by 2040. It is a major milestone on the rail operator’s broader sustainability journey which aims to create a greenhouse gas-free rail network for future generations.

This comes as the European Commission recently announced plans to ban SF6 from new Medium Voltage electrical equipment from 2026 for applications up to 24 kV and 2030 for applications up to 52 kV.2

The first installation of its kind in Europe, ABB’s PrimeGear ZX0 switchgear was chosen by lead contractor Rail Power Systems GmbH as part of a pilot project at charging substations on local railway lines in Heide, Tönning and Husum, Northern Germany. When used with ABB’s sustainable AirPlus gas, PrimeGear ZX0 has a global warming potential (GWP) of less than one, almost 100 percent lower than SF6.

Thomas Wehr, Product Manager AC Railway Energy Systems at Rail Power Systems GmbH comments: “ABB’s SF6-free technology offers an interesting alternative to conventional assets, especially in terms of eliminating harmful greenhouse gases. The switchgear can be integrated into our substation design without any problems.”

The integration of this digital-ready switchgear supports next-generation intelligence upgrades to further optimize efficiency and improve reliability. This presents a huge step forward in Deutsche Bahn’s roadmap towards a future-ready rail network.

Unlike traditional SF6 alternatives, in the unlikely event of a leak, ABB’s run-flat technology enables safe operational continuity until repair or servicing work can be carried out. This reduces the risk of costly downtime and delays to rail services. The switchgear’s compact, robust design also generates 20 percent less heat than traditional options and advances arc safety. The optional integration of sensors and remote monitoring and diagnostics features allows real-time visibility of network operations for early fault detection, highest reliability and planned maintenance. Together, these innovative features make for a reduced footprint, smarter operation and asset optimization, thus may reduce the overall cost of ownership by up to 30 percent, when compared to conventional GIS installations.

Harikishan Narayanan, Global Product Group Manager for Gas Insulated Switchgear at ABB adds: “With the first regulatory ban due to come into effect in only three years, rail operators must start to seriously consider their own migration to SF6 free technology. The good news is that ABB already offers a proven and highly effective, eco-alternative. Our AirPlusTM run-flat technology offers similar performance properties to SF6 to enable continuous operations and advanced safety, while reducing global warming impact by up to 100 percent. PrimeGear ZX0, when combined with monitoring and diagnostic features, also delivers smarter operation and reduced cost of ownership. As our joint project with RPS for Deutsche Bahn shows, the result is a reliable performance that is not only better for the environment, but also better for business.”

Over 9,000 ABB ecoGISTM units are now in operation around the world covering a range of applications up to 40.5 kV.

ABB is also collaborating with Deutsche Bahn on a range of projects including upgrading the rail operator’s first flagship InterCity Express (ICE 1) high-speed train series.

To find out more about how ABB can help customers to meet future F-Gas regulations, download our White Paper

PrimeGear ZX0

1 Deutsche Bahn announces record investment of over 13 bln euros in climate push | Clean Energy Wire


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Electrifying the world in a safe, smart and sustainable way, ABB Electrification is a global technology leader in electrical distribution and management from source to socket. As the world’s demand for electricity grows, our 50,000+ employees across 100 countries collaborate with customers and partners to transform how people connect, live and work. We develop innovative products, solutions and digital technologies that enable energy efficiency and a low carbon society across all sectors. By applying global scale with local expertise, we shape and support global trends, deliver excellence for customers and power a sustainable future for society.


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