# Thermal Decomposition of Sulfur Hexafluoride

What is the thermal decomposition temperature for $$\ce{SF6}?$$ I've heard it decomposes into $$\ce{F2}$$ and $$\ce{SF4}$$ only to decompose further into $$\ce{S2}$$ and $$\ce{F2},$$ but I haven't found much on the topic.

I became curious since I was considering using it to flush out oxygen for some reactions I was doing, due to its density and stability (plus we have a bunch lying around), but was concerned about it decomposing into more toxic compounds if the reaction or apparatus were to get too hot or if a spark were to occur.

I do not plan to actually do this. It was a silly idea I had, and I realized soon after posting this that $$\ce{SF6}$$ is a bad idea for these purposes since it is a greenhouse gas.

• Note that SF6 is an extremely good greenhouse gas. Releasing it may be controlled or not allowed where you work. – Jon Custer Jan 22 at 19:00
• Please do not use SF6 as an inert blanketing gas for chemistry, it is a gas which poses a great danger to the environment (Global warming). Also it is quite reactive to some things. For example it is very able to scavenge solvated electrons. It is something used in radiation chemistry to remove these free radicals. I would suggest argon (it is cheaper) or if you want a very cheap gas use nitrogen. – Nuclear Chemist Jan 23 at 17:43
• We have a system set up in our fume hood that recollects the gases. (I realized this was a dumb idea soon after I oosted this, ironically.) However, I'd still like to know the decomposition temperature, as this idea had sparked my curiosity. – Aezyc Jan 25 at 5:35

From an IEEE paper1:

$$\ce{SF6}$$ begins to decompose at $$\pu{300 °C}$$ and the main decomposition components contain $$\ce{CO2 , SO2F2 , SOF2 , SOF4 , SO2}$$ and $$\ce{H2S}$$; [...] $$\ce{H2S}$$ is the special component only appears when thermal fault proceeds to some degree (above $$\pu{360°C}$$).

References

1. F. Zeng et al., "Decomposition characteristics of SF6 under thermal fault for temperatures below 400°C," in IEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation, vol. 21, no. 3, pp. 995-1004, June 2014, doi: 10.1109/TDEI.2014.6832242.

As already noted the thermal decomposition s commence at $$\pu{300 °C}$$ and includes $$\ce{CO2 , SO2F2 , SOF2 , SOF4 , SO2}$$ and possibly $$\ce{H2S}$$.

Not mentioned relating to its stability per an Atomistry reference is:

Mixed with hydrogen it withstands a high temperature, but under the influence of powerful electric sparks formation of hydrogen sulphide and hydrogen fluoride can be effected. At a red heat copper and silver are without action on the gas, although magnesium and sodium effect its decomposition; at lower temperatures, however, it resists even these two metals and sodium can be melted unchanged in an atmosphere of the gas, as also can the hydroxides of the alkali metals. Hydrogen chloride and ammonia are unaffected by sulphur hexafluoride, but hydrogen sulphide reacts rapidly according to the equation:

$$\ce{SF6 + 3 H2S = 6 HF + 4 S }$$

So, with heating and also with hydrogen in the presence of electric sparks (atomic hydrogen), some hydrogen sulfide formation also. Note, electric arc generated atomic hydrogen is more powerful than the hydrogen radical ($$\ce{.H}$$), albeit the latter is more ubiquitously created, and I would avoid scenarios involving its potential introduction in the possible event, it also attacks SF6, speculatively (see relatedly, Eq (5) here) as follows (which could involve the extremely problematic formation of a deadly chemical weapon, disulfur decafluoride):

$$\ce{SF6 + .H ->? .SF5 + HF}$$

$$\ce{.SF5 + .SF5 -> S2F10}$$ (Source)

More definitely per above, however, H2S subsequently can further react with SF6 rapidly liberating problematic HF.

So, on the question, "concerned about it decomposing into more toxic compounds if the reaction or apparatus were to get too hot or if a spark were to occur", a definite yes from me.

Also, as a side note, SF6 reacts vigorously with Lithium metal (used to power the United States Navy's Mark 50 torpedo closed Rankine-cycle propulsion system per this source).