High Voltage Engineering

UnitUnit-II

UNIT-II
BREAKDOWN PHENOMENA
5. CLASSIFICATION OF HV INSULATING MEDIA
Electrical Insulation and Dielectrics:
Gaseous Dielectrics:

Atmospheric air is the cheapest and most widely used dielectric. Other gaseous
dielectrics, used as compressed gas at higher pressures than atmospheric in power
system, are Nitrogen, Sulphur-hexafluoride SF6 (an electro-negative gas) and it's
mixtures with CO2 and N2. SF6 is very widely applied for Gas Insulated Systems
(GIS), Circuit Breakers and gas filled installations i.e. sub-stations and cables. It is
being now applied for power transformers also.

Vacuum as Dielectric:

Vacuum of the order of 10-5 Torr and lower provides an excellent electrical
insulation. Vacuum technology developed and applied for circuit breakers in the last
three decades is phenomenon.

Liquid Dielectrics:

Organic liquids, the mineral insulating oils and impregnating compounds, natural and
synthetic, of required physical, chemical and electrical properties are used very
widely in transformers, capacitors, cables and circuit breakers.

Solid Dielectrics:

Very large in number.

Most widely used are : XLPE, PVC, ceramics, glass, rubber, resins, reinforced
plastics, polypropylene, impregnated paper, wood, cotton, mica, pressboards,
Bakelite, Perspex, Ebonite, Teflon, etc.

Introduction of nano-materials are in offing

REFERENCE:

http://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.iitm.ac.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home1_1.htm

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Deependra Singh

High Voltage Engineering
UnitUnit-II

6. PROPERTIES OF IMPORTANT HV INSULATING MEDIA
Properties of atmospheric air (N2):
The most important, freely available and the cheapest gaseous dielectric is air. The
atmospheric air is in fact a mixture of a number of gases. The detailed composition of earth's
atmosphere is given in Table 5.1 as given by Goody and Walker in their book Atmospheres.
Table 5.1 Composition of the earth's atmosphere
Percent by volume or by number of
Constituent
molecules of dry air
Nitrogen (N2)

78.084

Oxygen (O2)

20.946

Argon (A)

0.934

Carbon dioxide (CO2)

0.031

Neon (Ne)
Helium (He)

1.82 x 10-3
5.24 x 10-4

Methane (CH4)

1.5 x 10-4

Krypton (Kr)

1.14 x 10-4

Hydrogen (H2)

5 x 10-5

Nitrous oxide (N2O)

3 x 10-5

Xenon (Xe)
Carbon monoxide (CO)

8.7 x 10-6
1 x 10-5

Ozone (03)

upto 10-5

Water (Average)

upto 1

The largest percentage content of atmospheric air is nitrogen (about 78%), which is an
electropositive gas. The second largest constituent is oxygen (about 20%), which is a very
weak electronegative gas. The content of hydrogen, an electronegative gas too, is so low (5 x
10-5%) that for all practical purposes the air can be considered as an electropositive gas.
Majority of the theoretical as well as experimental research work available in literature to
study the complicated discharge processes in gaseous dielectrics have been performed on air.

Properties of Sulphur-hexafluoride, (SF6) Gas:
Sulphur-hexafluoride was first produced in 1900 by French scientists Moissan and
Lebeau by direct fluoronisation of sulphur. In the beginning it was mainly used as a dielectric

Deependra Singh

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High Voltage Engineering
UnitUnit-II
in atomic physics. During late 1950s, it found application in high voltage circuit breakers.
Ever since, its application in power systems has been continuously increasing.
Physical Properties
• In a SF6 molecule, six fluorine atoms arrange themselves uniformly like an
octahedron on a central sulphur atom. An excited sulphur atom can therefore form six
stable covalence bonds with the strongly electronegative fluorine atoms by sharing the
pair of electrons.
• Amongst halogens, the fluorine element and the sulphur atom both have very high
coefficients of electronegativity, of the order of 4 and 2.5, respectively. This
coefficient is a measure of the tendency to attract electrons of other atoms to form
dipole bondage.
• The rigid symmetrical structure, small binding distance and high binding energy
between atoms of a SF6 molecule provide it high stability.
• Thermal dissociation in highly purified SF6 gas begins at extremely high
temperatures (above 1000 K). Such high temperatures in power systems occur only in
electrical arcs. Even at continuous temperatures upto about 500 K, neither thermal
decomposition of SF6 nor its chemical reaction with other materials have been
reported.
• Further, SF6 is a nontoxic, colourless and odourless gas.
• Some important physical properties of SF6, other than molecular properties, are
brought together in Table 5.2.
Table 5.2 Physical properties of SF6
Physical
Property
Symbol Unit
Value
conditions
1.002
εr
-Relative Permittivity 0.1 MPa, 25°C - 51°C (liquid)
1.81 ± 0.02
< 5.10-6
0.1 MPa, - 51°C (liquid)
tan δ
-Dielectric loss tangent
< 5.10-6
Critical temperature

--

θcr

0

C

45.5

Tripple point

p=0.22 MPa

θT

0

C

-50.8

Sublimation point

.

θs

0

C

-63.8

at 100 C and constant p=0.1 MPa

Cp

5.13

at 100 C and const. volume

Cv

4.06

Heat conductivity

300 C

--

0.82.10-5

Heat transition No.

--

--

0.44.10-5

Specific heat capacity

The molecular mass of SF6 is quite high (146), it has a high density. Because of high
density the charge carriers have short mean free path. This property, along with the

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Deependra Singh

High Voltage Engineering
UnitUnit-II
properties of electron attachment, that is, electro-negativity and high ionization energy
result in high dielectric strength of SF6.
In Fig. 5.1 the two states of SF6, liquid or gaseous, are shown at varying pressures and
temperatures for different constant densities of the gas. This diagram is important from the
point of view of practical application of SF6 in GIS. Within the range of working pressure
and temperature of the gas, it should not liquefy as its electrical insulation properties are
affected.

Fig 5.1 States of SF6 for different constant gas densities and varying temperature and
pressure within practical application range
Electrical Properties of Vacuum as High Voltage Insulation
The idea of vacuum as insulation is quite old. Tracing the historical development, it
goes back to 1897 when R.W. Wood first gave description of discharges in vacuum while
investigating the production of X-ray tubes. The desire to produce X-ray tubes operating at
high voltages impelled the investigators to study the dielectric properties of vacuum. Ever
since, the vacuum as insulation has gradually found its application in electronic valves,
microwave tubes, Klystrons, photocells, particle accelerators and separators, controlled
nuclear fusion devices, etc. On the other hand vacuum insulation is applied in high voltage
apparatuses such as electrostatic generators, low-loss capacitors, circuit breakers and also for
outer space applications.

Deependra Singh

12

• Breakdown in vacuum is rather a complicated phenomenon involving a large number of processes with high electric field intensities. In such vacuum. • The process of multiplication of charged particles by collision in the space between the electrodes is far too insufficient to create avalanches.333 x 10-2 Pa).in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel. suggests that the pre-breakdown currents that flow between vacuum insulated high voltage electrodes. that is.htm KANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_5.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • At extremely low gas pressures. less than 3 x 1012 molecules per cm3 are estimated to be present and the length of the mean free path is of the order of meters. the microscopic conditions of electrode surfaces continue to play an important role.iitm. unlike in gases.iitm. After this a new process.htm 13 Deependra Singh . However. in vacuum the initial stage of breakdown cannot be due to the formation of electron avalanche. a form of complex nonmetallic emission mechanism has made its break through to explain the pre-breakdown conduction.ac. frequently originate from nonmetallic emission mechanisms. • Therefore. the electron emission from metallic surfaces in presence of strong electric fields. These are associated with some kind of insulating/semiconducting surface oxides or impurity concentrations. Thus investigations of the breakdown mechanism in vacuum have been oriented to establish the way gas clouds could be created in a vacuum. REFERENCE: • http://nptel.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_5. Mechanism. the usual kind of breakdown process can take place. The' field emission' process.ac. electron ionization process becomes inadequate to cause a breakdown because the 'mean free path' of an electron (defined as the distance an electron can travel without colliding with another particle) is very long. • In a vacuum better than 10-4 Torr (1. established itself through a considerable amount of work performed in the 20th century. if a gas cloud forms in the vacuum. an electron may cross a gap of a few cm between two electrodes without any collision. From the technological point of view.

for example. The micro inclusions present on electrode surfaces can stimulate strong electron emission and significantly reduce the breakdown strength of the gap. thermionic emission. field assisted thermionic and thermionic emission. a relatively steady current begins to flow. Fig 6. Out of these. the most important mechanisms of electron emission in vacuum are due to field. GASEOUS DIELECTRICS: IONIZATIONS PRIMARY AND SECONDARY IONIZATION PROCESSES PREBREAKDOWN ELECTRON EMISSION IN VACUUM • When the voltage across a very small gap (a few mm) is sufficiently increased. field or cold emission. Non-Metallic Electron Emission Mechanisms Pre-breakdown conduction currents between vacuum insulated high voltage electrodes frequently originate from nonmetallic mechanisms. Mechanisms of Electron Emission from Metallic Surfaces There are a large number of mechanisms described in the literature that can produce electron emission from metallic surfaces under different conditions. • A general observation made for small gaps is. Latham Deependra Singh 14 . • On raising the voltage further. field assisted thermionic. • For longer gap spacings (> 1 cm).High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 7. that the pre-breakdown current flow has been found to consist mainly of electrons. also known as Schottky or T-F emission. small pulse currents of millisecond durations and charges of the order of micro-Coulombs (micro-discharges) are measured. secondary emission caused by electron bombardment of an electrode and emissions caused by positive ion bombardment and metastable atoms. photoelectric emission.1 A schematic representation of insulating microinclusion emission regime with conducting channels and the associated microscopic field enhancement. the micro-discharge eventually gives rise to a steady current. These are associated with some form of insulating/semiconducting oxide layer on the surfaces or impurity concentrations.

process). During an electrical breakdown. Ions are produced from neutral molecules or atoms by ejection or attachment of an electron.2 a band structure representation of an insulating microparticle in 'switched on state' of a conducting channel yielding electron emission. the drift velocity of an electron in atmospheric air is ~107 cm/sec. whereas a heavy ion moves with a drift velocity of ~105 cm/sec only. For a small gap distance between electrodes. c. In small gap distance the charge carriers required in order to build this discharge canal are not only produced within the gaseous dielectric across the gap (primary or α. F. but are also released from the electrode surfaces (secondary or γ .-Fermi level. One of the most significant features of ionization process is the electron energy in different shells of a molecule.-valence band Generation of Charge Carriers In a gas.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Fig 6. ions can therefore be assumed not to have moved from the place where they are generated. The ionization process in a gas in long gap distances is the deciding factor leading to breakdown. v.conduction band. Because of the lower mass. The production of charge carriers from the neutral gas molecules is known as ionization process. The mass of an electron compared to that of a molecule is very less (approximately 1/1840). Ejection of an electron from a neutral molecule leaves behind a positive ion. The total energy of an electron while still 15 Deependra Singh . therefore the mass of an ion can be considered to be equal to the corresponding molecule.b.L. the electrons and ions are the electric charge carriers.process). whereas absorption of an electron by a molecule produces negative ion. the insulating gas between the electrodes is bridged by a conducting discharge canal (channel).b.

and second the potential energy Wpot depending upon its charge in the Coulomb field of the nucleus of a molecule. If a free electron is absorbed by a molecule forming a negative ion. z is the atomic number representing z electrons with negative elementary charge e = 1.1 Table 6.6 SF6 H2 15.6x1019 as.1) And (6.1 Ionization energies for the first electron in gas Gas First Ionization energy W1 (eV) Deependra Singh N2 15. The total energy with which an electron is attached to the nucleus of the molecule is given from Equations 6. Then the only energy it has is the kinetic energy acquired externally. re ∞. (6.1 and 6.4) This is the amount of energy required for releasing an electron from its molecule and. it is known as ionization energy 'W1' of an electron. that is. the potential energy of the electron tends to be zero. First the kinetic energy WKE.3) The binding energy of an electron in the nth shell to its nucleus is given as.2) Where me is the electron mass.6 15. lying in the discrete circular orbits re of an atom. (6. therefore. ve its velocity and ε the permittivity of the dielectric. known as 'energy of recombination'.9 16 .High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II attached to the molecule can be divided into two types of energies. The ionozation energy W1 in eV for different gases are given in Table 6.2 as follows: (6. the energy of ionization is released. which depends upon its mass and velocity. When an electron gets ejected out of an atom shell. These energies are given as.

it is capable of ionizing by impact that is. E Electron charge.process (also secondary process) shown in Fig. • It is α . UI The ionization potential The β . • When an electron gains more kinetic energy than the required ionization energy W1of the gas molecule.0 O2 H2O (vapour) CO2 He Impact Ionization: • Impact or collision of particles amongst each other. Fig 6.3. 6.process alone which plays the major role.7 14.4 24. accelerated under electrical field.process (also primary process). • The multiplication of charge carriers in gas takes place mainly by impact of electrons with neutral molecules known as α .3 Impact ionization by electron and ion Where • λe The mean free path. • The positive ions make a moderate contribution to ionization only at solid insulation surfaces.1 12.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 12. 17 Deependra Singh . ejecting an electron from a neutral molecule and thus leaving behind a positive ion. leads to the formation of charge carriers from neutral gas molecules. which is known as β .process does not play any significant role in gaseous dielectrics during the discharge leading to breakdown.

to the order of 10.5) where p is the pressure in Torr. k Boltzmann's constant (k = 1. W1 the ionization energy of the gas. and T the absolute temperature in K. as shown in Fig.4 Deependra Singh 18 . • Saha derived an expression for the degree of ionization θ in terms of gas pressure p and absolute temperature T. • Thermal ionization becomes significant only at temperatures above 10.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • To cause ionization. α = f (E) Thermal Ionization: • If a gas is heated to sufficiently high temperature. It is known as the Townsend's first or primary 'ionization coefficient'. the number of ionized to total particles. • However.000 K . the rate of new ion formation must be equal to the rate of recombination. • The mean number of ionizing collisions made by a single electron per centimeter drift across the gap in a uniform field is given by α. Ionization by impact is actually a probability process. with the assumption that under thermodynamic equilibrium conditions. 6. θ the ratio n1/n that is. it is a very important coefficient strongly dependent upon the electric field intensity. This expression is given as follows: (6. • Thermal ionization is the principal source of ionization in flames and arcs. For gas discharge. not all electrons having gained energy ≥ (eUI) cause ionization on collision with neutral molecules. • The molecules excited by photon radiation also affect the ionization process. the incoming electron must have a kinetic energy greater than or equal to the ionization energy of the molecule (eUI). which represents basically a probability process.38 x 10-23 J/K).000 K and above. many of the gas atoms or molecules acquire high velocity to cause ionization on collision with other atoms or molecules.

ac. an exceptionally high temperature rise in this channel core is possible. REFERENCE: • http://nptel. thermal ionization has its significance only towards the final stage of breakdown.in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.iitm.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_8. Because of the transformation of large amount of energy in the electrically conductive channel (known as 'leader') towards the final stage of breakdown.htm 19 Deependra Singh .High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Fig 6.iitm.4 Degree of ionization of thermally ionized gases at 1 bar • During electrical breakdown in gases.ac.

CRITERIA FOR GASEOUS INSULATION BREAKDOWN BASED ON TOWNSEND’S THEORY Breakdown by Avalanche Discharge (Townsend Mechanism): • When the distance d between two electrodes in a uniform field is very small. Photon effect ' p': Excited molecules in the avalanche may emit photons on returning to their ground state. may still have quite a low value even at the breakdown field intensity." • Like α. • The three processes of cathode effect are described quantitatively by a coefficient ' ' as follows. and ejection of electrons from the cathode by following effects: 1. per ionizing collision in the gap.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 8. It is defined as the number of secondary electrons on an average produced at the cathode per electron generated by the primary process. also known as . that is. 'γ' strongly depends upon the cathode material and is a function of field intensity and pressure of the gas. • Production of sufficient number of charge carriers in the gap under such conditions is possible only by secondary ionization process. cannot gain enough kinetic energy in the electric field to ionize molecules. • 'γ' is known as Townsend's secondary ionization coefficient. then considering: Deependra Singh 20 . the avalanche space charge concentration is not able to acquire its critical amplification (the total number of electrons ≈ 108). 2. • These secondary processes are ionization of the gas by positive ions and photons from the excited molecules. 3. Positive ion effect ' ion': While the positive ions. This radiation falling on cathode may produce photo-emission of electrons. γ also represents a probability process. α the Townsend's first ionization coefficient which is a function of field intensity E. If the mean number of secondary electrons per avalanche produced are µ. Metastable effect 'm': Metastable molecules may diffuse back to the cathode and cause electron emission on striking it. • Under these conditions. produced in the primary avalanche.process. they may have sufficient potential energy to cause ejection of electrons upon striking the cathode.

there is no well defined plateau in the U-I characteristic. • Average current growth with respect to the applied voltage and time are shown in Figs.3 Fig 8.8.1 . and the current eventually increases rapidly through the regions II and III with increasing voltage until a breakdown occurs at some well defined voltage U = Ub. even at the voltages at which ionization in the gas begins to occur. Townsend's original experimental arrangement had uniform field electrodes enclosed in a glass vessel. • The proportion of electrons which diffuse back decreases as the voltage is increased. 8. the initial current through the gap increases slowly to a value IO • The magnitude of this current depends upon the ultra violet illumination level of the cathode.1) d If the primary electron generation process begins with n0 number of electrons. • Thus. • The electrons emitted from the cathode move through the gas with an average velocity determined by their mobility at the field intensity in the gap. 21 Deependra Singh . region I. This vessel was provided with a quartz window for irradiating the cathode with ultra violet light to emit photo electrons. shown in Fig. but not all the electrons emitted reach the anode. the second generation begins with µ n0 = number of electrons.1.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II µ = γ (e α − 1) (8. • As the voltage applied is raised.1 General conduction current-voltage characteristics before breakdown. in general. • In order to measure the U-I characteristic. • The initial increase in current is followed by an approach to saturation because some of the electrons emitted from the cathode return to it by diffusion. 8.

2 that the characteristics measured by Townsend and Rees are very similar. the voltage Ub at which the breakdown occurs remains unaltered. • If α is the primary ionization coefficient for the applied uniform field E0 .process. For this case. • In the event of positive ion space charge distorting the field. • The secondary or γ -process accounts for the sharper increase in current in region III and for an eventual spark breakdown of the gap. • It is a distinguishing feature of breakdown that the voltage across the gap drops in the process which produces a high conductivity between the electrodes.2 Voltage-current (U-I) characteristics in helium measured by Rees in 1963. It is evident from the Fig. This takes place in a very short time (in µsecs). Figure. • The increase in current in region II is derived from the process of field intensified ionization by primary or α . the amplification of α which increases with distance and time is given as.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • Whatever may be the level of initial illumination of cathode. 8. Fig 8.1 and 8. measured by Rees.2 shows the U-I characteristic in helium at a pressure of 488 Torr. 8.the amplification of ionizing collisions of the electrons is given by eαx . Deependra Singh 22 . µ(t) can be written as.

23 Deependra Singh . The process with higher number of electrons (n0 » 1) is achieved by illuminating the cathode with constant intense light. α d = 12. till breakdown occurs.2) where I0 is the initial photo-electric current at the cathode.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Which grows continuously above 1. • The saturation level of the curve in Fig 8. • At lower values of current. the growth of current in this region can be given by. • Experiments have been performed to study the current growth in uniform fields in air and other gases initiated by a single electron (n0 =1) with the help of a light flash. The movement of charge carriers (electrons and positive ions) in the gap is responsible for the growth of circuit current. • With the help of theoretical considerations confirmed with experimental results. • Hoger developed one such method of measurement in nitrogen.3.1 (region II) is also called the steady state region. the statistical distribution scatters more compared to the distribution at higher current values. 8. Torr. (8. µ = 1) on semilogarithmic plot by Hoger 1963. (E/p20 = 44.3.8 V/cm. The measured values are indicated by the vertical lines.3 • Current growth initiated by a single electron. he computed the current growth started by a single and more number of electrons as in Fig. d = 2 cm. • If it is assumed that the number of positive ions diffusing per second at the cathode are just equal to the number of newly formed electrons arriving at the anode. Fig 8.

• By definition.1. an avalanche in uniform field develops at the cathode with n0 initial electrons. the secondary ionization.1). we have • (8. the mean number of secondary electrons produced per avalanche.4) n0" = n0 + γn0"(eαd . Thus n0 " = n0 + n0 ' (8.1) collisions in the gap d.1) Substituting Equation 5. and n0 " = the total number of electrons leaving the cathode per second. n0 ' = the number of secondary electrons produced at the cathode per second. • The Townsend's current growth equation in this region is derived as follows: Let n0 = the number of primary electrons (photo electrons) emitted from the cathode (at x = 0) per second. we have (8. the total number of ionizing collisions per second in the gap will be n0"(eαd .1) (8.8. (8. then. or γ . Then equation 8.5) or • From Equation 7.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • Although this expression represents the averaged effect of a number of avalanches. therefore.1) in the denominator of Equation 8.7 reduces to I ≈ Deependra Singh 24 . (eαd .6) Under the steady state conditions. For µ << 1. n0' = γn0"(eαd .process is insignificant. it fails to signify the breakdown. nd = n0" eαd By putting the value of n0" in the above equation.7) This equation describes the growth of average current in the gap before the breakdown. • The current in region III has a much steeper rise till a breakdown occurs which is rendered to the γ.4. the current in the gap can therefore be given by. In other words. the number of electrons arriving at the anode is given by. γ is the number of secondary electrons produced on an average at the cathode per ionizing collision in the gap.7 represents µ. • According to Equation 8. or secondary ionization process.9 in 5.3) • Since each electron leaving the cathode makes on an average (eαd .

the electron amplification is normally much greater than one (eαd >> 1). be explained on the basis of the observation that the ionization process begins with a number of 'series of avalanches'. 8. 25 Deependra Singh . a strong concentration of charge carriers grow in the subsequent 'generations' of electron production.1. A conceptual schematic of the breakdown mechanism is shown in Fig. This condition is also described as 'non-selfsustaining discharge'. 8. therefore. • The quantitative condition for breakdown can be expressed as. • • At the final stage of breakdown. and thus the field intensity E is increased. The applied voltage and hence the field intensity is low in this region. Then the denominator of this equation approaches zero and. (8. under which a breakdown would not be able to develop by itself. • It extends over the whole gap and ultimately constricts into a spark or breakdown channel. so the criterion reduces to (8. • These equations and conclusions are also valid for weakly non-uniform fields where the µ is defined in slightly different way as follows: • (8.4. the discharge or ionization process becomes self-sustained to maintain the level of required charge carriers. the current is however limited by the impedance offered by the power supply and by the gas itself. which represents the region II in Fig.10) The Townsend's mechanism of spark breakdown can. Under these conditions. described as a 'self-sustaining discharge'. the current I tends to rise unlimitedly.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II I0 eαd.8) This equation is known as the 'Townsend Criterion' for spark breakdown in uniform field. the value of µ approaches 1. At this stage. therefore. or ionization process.9) Under the condition when µ > 1. • As the applied voltage.

htm KANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_8.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Fig 8.iitm.iitm.4 Townsend breakdown mechanism schematic.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_8.ac. REFERENCE: • http://nptel.htm Deependra Singh 26 .in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.ac.

contrary to the actual time measured experimentally.ac. REFERENCE: • http://nptel. This necessitated a novel approach for breakdown mechanism suitable for longer gap distances than as explained by Townsend in uniform fields.ac. this was confirmed by Raether as early as 1939. The estimated time required for breakdown in comparatively longer gap distances by this theory was too long.htm KANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_7. LIMITATIONS OF TOWNSEND’S THEORY According to Townsend's generation mechanism.htm 27 Deependra Singh .iitm.in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_7.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 9.iitm. With the development of electrical and optical measurement methods. the time required for breakdown by normal avalanche propagation is determined by the drift velocity of electrons in a few generations.

it is the 'eigen space charge' which produces the instability of the avalanche. confirmed that the transformation from avalanche to streamer began to develop from the head of an electron avalanche. • The streamer breakdown mechanism describes the development of spark breakdown directly from a single avalanche. which appears to be a set of waves or ripples moving forward. transforms it into a conducting channel. • This kind of visual display results during a discharge due to the movement of pockets of ionized particles. If xc is longer than the gap length d (xc > d) then the initiation of streamer is unlikely as shown in Fig. this corresponds to a value. the time required for breakdown by normal avalanche propagation is determined by the drift velocity of electrons in a few generations. • For an avalanche initiated by a single electron (n0 = 1) in a uniform field. • The approximate calculations of the conditions required for the space charge field of avalanche Ea to be able to acquire the magnitude of the order of the externally applied field E0. • The term 'Kanal' is taken from German language which means a canal or a channel.1 Deependra Singh 28 . where xc is the length of avalanche in the field direction when it amplifies to its critical size. xc is the critical length of the electrode gap dc. This necessitated a novel approach for breakdown mechanism suitable for longer gap distances than as explained by Townsend in uniform fields. As described by Raether. The estimated time required for breakdown in comparatively longer gap distances by this theory was too long. contrary to the actual time measured experimentally. Streamer also means a column of light shooting up in aurora. In other words.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 10. This means that the streamer mechanism is possible only when d ≥ xc. • The space charge developed by the avalanche itself due to rapid growth of charge carriers. • The word streamer literally means a ribbon attached at one end and floating or waving at the other.9. this was confirmed by Raether as early as 1939. With the development of electrical and optical measurement methods. when the number of charge carriers increased to a critical value. STREAMER’S THEORY BREAKDOWN IN NON UNIFORM FIELDS Breakdown by Streamer Discharge (Streamer or Kanal Mechanism) According to Townsend's generation mechanism.

High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • On the basis of experimental results and some simple assumptions. • The condition for transition from avalanche to streamer breakdown assumes that this eigen space charge field approaches near the externally applied field (Ea ≈ E0). • Field intensities towards the head and the tail of avalanche acquire a magnitude (Ea + Eo ). xc works out to be equal to 2cm which can be considered to be critical gap distance.Ea). where dc is given in cm. the field is reduced to a value (E0 . 29 Deependra Singh . the breakdown criterion takes the form. 9. • If the charge lies nearly in a spherical shape of radius ra then the field at the surface of this space charge in the form of a sphere is.7 + ln xc ≈ 20 Thus the condition xc = dc gives the smallest value of α to produce streamer breakdown. just behind the head. • • α xc= 17.1 Effect of space charge field Ea of an avalanche of critical amplification on the applied uniform field. dc. Fig 9. Hence the above breakdown criterion becomes. • The interaction between the space charges and the polarities of the electrodes results in distortion of the uniform field. For α xc = ln108 . By incorporating this condition. where e is the elementary charge of an electron and ε0 the absolute permittivity constant. for streamer phenomenon to take place in atmospheric air in uniform field. Raether developed the following empirical formula for the 'streamer breakdown criterion'. (see Fig.7 + ln xc The minimum value of αxc required for breakdown in a uniform field gap by streamer mechanism is obtained on the assumption that the transition from avalanche to streamer occurs when an avalanche of critical size just extends across the gap d. αdc = 17. while above the positive ion region.1).

Deependra Singh 30 . Fig 9. secondary electrons are produced by photons and photo-electric effect from the cathode. the electrons are swept into the anode.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • The 'streamer breakdown criterion' can be therefore interpreted as a condition for the development of significant field distortion caused by stark space charge within a single avalanche so that its field intensity is comparable to the externally applied field. • In the gas surrounding the avalanche. and the positive ions in the tail of the avalanche stretch out across the gap as shown in Fig.2. it does not constitute a breakdown in the gap. • A highly localized space charge field due to positive ions is produced near the anode but since the ion density elsewhere is low.2 Schematic of a cathode directed streamer breakdown showing development stages. 9. • In sufficiently long air gap in uniform field when the avalanche extends across the gap.

iitm. which are directed towards the stem of the main avalanche. 9.ac. (b). 9.3 Photograph of a cathode directed streamer developed from an avalanche.in/courses/Webcourse http://nptel. Raether REFERENCE: • http://nptel.ac.2 (c).High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • • • • The secondary electrons initiate the secondary avalanches.iitm. Thus the secondary avalanches feed into the primary avalanche as shown in Fig.6 cm in air at 270 Torr and a field intensity of about 12. Figure 9. Significant development in high-speed photographic techniques.2 (a).200 V/cm by Raether. Fig. The positive ions left behind by the secondary avalanches effectively lengthen and intensify the space charge of the main avalanche in the direction of the cathode and the process develops a self propagating streamer breakdown shown in Fig.htm 31 Deependra Singh .iitm.3 shows the photograph of an avalanche where secondary avalanches are feeding into the primary avalanche. strengthened by the incorporation of image converters and image intensifiers have made it possible to record the progress of the discharge light output at earlier stages than hitherto.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_7. taken in a gap of 3. 9.ac.in/courses/Webcoursep://nptel. if the space charge field developed by the main avalanche is of the order of the applied field.

the following equation must hold true: (12. ac as well as switching (si) impulse type of voltages to a hemispherical rodplane electrode system for gap lengths beginning with a few cm. however. It can be achieved.4. therefore. as shown in Fig. The avalanche developed under this condition must. Since the avalanche has acquired its critical stage. An increase in field intensity towards the tail of this avalanche Deependra Singh 32 . taking most suitably a rod in place of a needle electrode. Both the polarities are. Electrons at the head of the avalanche are absorbed immediately by the positive rod electrode (anode). When the avalanche has grown to its critical amplification.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 11. where the impact ionization and PB is possible at a given voltage application. CORONA DISCHARGES Development of Streamer or Corona Discharge Let the field distribution between the point-plane electrode systems be modified in such a way that the fall in field intensity (the potential gradient) at the tip of the electrode is no more so steep as in the case of star corona. 12. the avalanche developed in this region can acquire their critical length of amplification xc. a strong effect of polarity is observed here too as in case of the development of star corona. With the result. The magnitude of voltage required is comparatively higher than needed to produce star corona with below critical amplification of avalanche because of a lower intensity of field at a given voltage in this case. there is a strong concentration of positive space charge till upto the tail end of the avalanche. by increasing the radius of curvature of the point. Positive Rod-Plane Electrode (Positive Steamer Corona) Consider a situation after the inception of an avalanche discharge in the region next to a positive rod. shown in a circular form for the sake of explanation in Fig. 12. The positive space charge left behind can lead to a weakening of the field next to the anode to such an extent that further discharges may not be possible in this region. for example. This will increase the depth region of ∆x. leading to a transformation from avalanche to streamer discharge. Practical experience has shown that pure stable streamer discharge may be produced on applying dc.1) where xc is the length of an avalanche when it acquires its critical amplification. discussed separately. remain in the field region above EI the minimum field intensity required for impact ionization. As a consequence of the interaction between field produced by the space charge and the applied basic field.1.

therefore. be much higher than the minimum intensity required for impact ionization EI or even for partial breakdown inception Ei at higher voltages (curve 1 in Fig. inspite of the basic field decreasing below this level. an increase in field intensity is caused again due to the positive space charge of the second and the negative of the third avalanche at its head. which has grown to some extent into the second (curve 2 in Fig. the second avalanche grows to some extent into the first avalanche. Fig 12. 12. Because of similar reasons explained above.4 Schematic of streamer discharge in front of a positive rod electrode with variation in field and potential as a consequence of space charge 33 Deependra Singh . The resultant enhanced field intensity magnitude may.12.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II results due to the presence of a weak negative space charge. This process continues so long as a subsequent avalanche started by photoionization falls in the field region above Ei.4). produced at the front of the next avalanche which is formed by photon emission from the avalanche head. In this process.4).

numerous avalanches begin together and the whole process is a continuous development of a large number of streamer trajectories of partial breakdown in the region where the resultant (enhanced) field intensity is greater then Ei . In fact. These spread in space around the rod electrode in the main field direction as shown in the photograph in Fig. therefore. do not move themselves much. Fig 12. The streamer corona is also accompanied with an impulse form of current. Depending upon the range of streamer. The impulse discharge is generally in the range of 100 pC to 100 nC but Deependra Singh 34 . However. The streamer current decays to its 50% value within about 100 ns.5. the basic condition for the   development of streamer discharge  ∫ αxa ≈ 20  must be accomplished at each point. The positive and the negative space charges involved in the growth of the streamer string compensate for each other.5 Photograph of a positive streamer discharge Lemke. The conductivity of this nearly neutral charge carrier channel is.     Since the positive charge carriers. the process is comparable to the movement of a wave.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II The mechanism of development of streamer described above can be compared to the one explained for uniform fields. being heavier particles. this current may acquire its maximum magnitude of a few milliampere to an ampere within nano seconds. 12. quite low.

This is the reason that the audible noise produced by streamer corona is a flutter sound. Measurements by Lemke in 1967 revealed that the mean potential drop per centimeter length in a positive streamer is 4. therefore. mentioned sometimes as 'illuminated string discharge'. it is popularly known as 'streamer corona'. a weakening of the negative space charge results. Let this loss be represented by a potential Ul . in case of negative rod also. Let the process be analyzed through the involvement of energy in the space between electrodes. for a positive streamer discharge to grow. increasing the field intensity right at the tip of the electrode. Hence. it can be said that. a sort of 'scattering' of negative space charge takes place by radial diffusion. When the discharge process develops farther. the extent of streamer as shown in Fig. The field intensity. The streamer discharges are.5 kV/cm is required. Referring to Fig. Because of continuous production of new charge carriers.4. The electrons form a negative space charge at the head of the avalanche slightly away from the electrode tip. Hence a loss of energy in the gap is caused. it is also known as 'bunch discharge'. 12. Negative Rod-Plane Electrode (Negative Streamer Corona) Like positive rod-plane electrode. Consequently. that is. built in front of the rod in the dielectric. repetitive having irregular frequency. thereby weakening the field in the vicinity. it can be seen that. This occurs at x = ds.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II may be even higher in some cases.5 kV.4. which is 35 Deependra Singh . the range of growth of streamer discharge can be determined.Ux). therefore. In other words. 12. The mechanism in principle is comparable to the positive streamer discharge except for the location of space charge formation. the development of a streamer discharge begins with an avalanche which acquires its critical amplification. because of the high mobility of electrons. that is. A strong positive space charge is. a potential gradient above 4. some energy is consumed simultaneously. However. when Ul ≈ Ue . The integrated optical light appearance of streamer corona is like a weakly illuminated 'bunch' or more appropriately a 'shower' of discharge. unlike a hiss in case of star corona. if the potential gradient requirement for the streamer to grow is known. their heads are away from the rod. The gain in potential due to space charge Ue is represented by its corresponding energy gain (where Ue = U0 . for a known potential distribution Ux in the gap. The direction of the avalanches is however opposite. The discharge process ceases to continue when this loss of energy is no more compensated by the gain. The next process of displacement and formation of space charge introduces a time lag.

12.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_7.iitm. Because of this space charge effect on the field.6 Photographs of positive and negative streamer discharge.6. While the average potential gradient requirement for the propagation of positive streamer is estimated to be about 5 kV /cm. REFERENCE: • http://nptel. This phenomenon is very clearly seen in Fig.6. The radial diffusion of electrons is also responsible for a comparatively lesser number of distinct trajectories of negative streamer corona able to develop at the rod. Fig 12. the negative discharge process does not grow towards the opposite electrode to that extent compared to positive discharge at the same applied potential magnitude.ac. TU Dresden.iitm. increases to some extent again.in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.ac.'Lichtenberg figures' taken by Toepler.htm Deependra Singh 36 . 12. as shown in Fig.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II affected by the concentration of the space charge. it is of the order of 10 to 15 k V/cm for negative streamer.

The values of α depend upon the particular gas and of upon the electrode material. The breakdown voltage of a gas in uniform field is. the Townsend's criterion for breakdown in electropositive gases in uniform field can be represented in terms of the product of the gas pressure and the electrode gap distance 'pd' as. therefore. where Ub is the breakdown voltage and Eb the corresponding field intensity. Eb is equal to the electric strength of the dielectric under given conditions.2) This is known as Paschen's law. and p the gas pressure. where a steady state can be achieved. electropositive and electronegative gases. • At low value of Elp. When the applied field intensity E0 = Eb . In a uniform field electrode system of gap distance d. The scientist. that is at high pressures. It can be shown that this law is also applicable to electronegative gases. In these experiments the conduction gap currents were maintained below 0. PASCHEN’S LAW AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE Breakdown Voltage Characteristics in Uniform Fields (Paschen's Law) In uniform fields. 'p' and the gap distance between electrodes 'd' for a given electrode material and its condition.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 12. (10. a unique function of the product of gas pressure. experiments have been performed on the spatial growth of ionization in a large number of both.1) Or (10. so that the field distortions 37 Deependra Singh . (eαd -1 ) = 1 αd = ln (1/ + 1) Or where the coefficients α and γ are functions of E/p and are given as follows: and where E0 is the applied electric field. the Townsend's criterion for breakdown in electropositive gases is given by the following equation. Paschen. carbon dioxide and hydrogen. established it experimentally in 1889 from the measurement of breakdown voltage in air.1µA.

it is convenient to consider a gap with fixed spacing (d = constant). The results have shown that this generalised Townsend's theory of breakdown is applicable over a wide range of physical conditions.1 Breakdown voltage vs pd characteristics in uniform field (Paschen's curve) Breakdown Voltage Characteristics in Uniform Fields (Paschen's Law): • To explain the shape of the curve in last slide. lower electric field intensity.1. the density of the gas becomes so low that relatively fewer collisions occur. and let the pressure decrease from a point Phigh on the curve at the right of the minimum. although in practice it is found to be nearly linear over certain regions.1 does not imply that the breakdown voltage varies linearly with 'pd'. Equation 10. • When the minimum of the breakdown voltage is reached and the pressure still continues to be decreased. In other words.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II due to space charge remained at a minimum. • A schematic of the variation of Ub with respect to 'pd' is shown in Fig. consequently the probability of an electron making collisions with the molecules goes down as it travels towards the anode. even if the kinetic energy of the electron is more than the energy required for ionization. Under such conditions. the density of the gas decreases. As the pressure is decreased. Since each collision results in loss of energy. 10. Fig 10. The breakdown voltage attains a minimum value Ub min around a particular value of the product (pd)min. an electron has a finite chance of ionizing which depends upon its energy. an electron may not necessarily ionize a molecule on colliding with it. hence a lower voltage suffices to provide electrons the kinetic energy required for ionization by collision to achieve breakdown. The breakdown can occur only if the Deependra Singh 38 . The values of the breakdown voltages Ub estimated theoretically have been found in good agreement with those observed experimentally.

With the help of many scientists. the calculated and the measured results agree with each other well. as shown in Fig. Plow . Under these conditions. Schumann. At low pressures.2. Sohst and Schröeder.3 for uniform field in air have been compared with the available experimental results from different authors by Dakin et al. This explains the increase in breakdown voltage to the left of the minimum. In this region or in the pressure range of ≤ 25Torr till upto 10-3Torr.cm • Calculated values of breakdown voltages using Equation 10.3) where p is given in bar and d in cm. Fig 10. the phenomenon of Faraday Glow occurs. the equation 10. In this region where the Elp values are quite high due to low pressures.2 Paschen's curve for air at temperature 200C 39 Deependra Singh . As seen in this figure. hence this phenomenon is applicable in high voltage vacuum tubes and switchgears. therefore pd in bar.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II probability of ionization becomes greater by increasing the field intensity. except for the very low values of pd. The peak values of the breakdown voltages in kV and pd in bar. The air acquires a plasma state on applying quite low voltages depending upon the actual pressure. (10. 10. the effect of electrode material surface roughness plays an important role on the breakdown voltage especially at small gap distances and the Paschen's law is no more valid to the left of the minimum of this curve. mm are plotted on a double logarithmic scale paper. the following equation for breakdown voltage of air in uniform field was derived. partial vacuum conditions exist.3 no longer holds good and the Paschens law is no more valid.

For longer gap lengths in uniform fields. (10. in place of gas pressure p.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II • It is more convenient to introduce the 'relative gas density'. therefore. is known as the 'inherent' or 'intrinsic strength' of air Ebi. defined as. The electric strength value 31 kV/cm. proportional to the product δd and . δ . Equation for normal temperature and pressure will be. This is representing the breakdown characteristic of atmospheric air at normal temperature and pressure in uniform fields. measured across one cm gap in uniform field at normal temperature and pressure.a dimensionless quantity.1 mm. 6. Deependra Singh 40 . A plot of Equation 10. Correction for the variation in ambient conditions of air is made by introducing the 'relative air density'. ' δ' takes care of the effect of temperature on the mean free path of electrons in the gas at constant pressure.4) where p is in Torr and t in °C. (10. It tends to 24 kV /cm for very long gaps. At normal temperature (t = 20°C) and pressure (p = 760 Torr). The number of collisions made by an electron in crossing a gap is. the electric strength of air reduces to about 25 kV/cm. For gaps of a few mm. δ. the electric strength is much higher than 31 kV/cm. that is for one cm gap at 760 Torr and 20°C. where a breakdown with streamer mechanism is more likely to develop.5 is shown in Fig.5) It is interesting to note that even in uniform field at constant pressure and temperature. the electric strength of air is not constant. It has been measured to rise to about 92 kV/cm for a gap of 0. δ is equal to one.3. The value 31 kV/cm is applicable only for d = 1.

iitm.ac. REFERENCE: • http://nptel.3 Breakdown voltage characteristics of atmospheric air in uniform fields.ac.in/courses/Webcourse-contents/IITcontents/IITKANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_10.htm KANPUR/HighVoltageEngg/ui/Course_home2_10.htm 41 Deependra Singh .iitm.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Fig 10.in/courses/Webcoursehttp://nptel.

the breakdown should have taken place the moment the step voltage had just crossed the voltage Vd.10 Let the same gap be subjected to a step voltage of peak value Vd1 > Vd and of a duration such that the gap breaks down in time t. 1. If the breakdown were purely a function of voltage magnitude. are smaller as compared to impulse wave as the duration of the former are pretty large as compared to the letter and the energy content is large. t is the time lag. Also it depends upon the availability of an electron between the gap for initiation of the avalanche.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 13.C. and A. Normally the peak value of A. Deependra Singh 42 . Fig. In the given case shown in Fig.C.C.10. and the breakdown. is called the time lag. TIME LAGS OF BREAKDOWN In order to breakdown a gap. voltage applied for a long time to cause breakdown of a given gap. The time that elapses between the application of the voltage to a gap sufficient to cause breakdown. One is the that elapses during the voltage applications until a primary electron appears to initiate the discharge and is known as the statistical time lag ts and the other is the time required for the breakdown to develop once initiated and is known as the formative time lag tf. Suppose Vd is the maximum value of D. 1. The statistical time lag depends upon: (i) The amount of pre-ionization present in between the gap (ii) Size of the gap (iii) The amount of over voltage (Vd1 – Vd) applied to the gap.C. certain amount of energy is required. and D. Also with D.C. It consists of two components. as the duration is large there are usually sufficient initiatory electrons created by cosmic ray and naturally occurring radioactive sources.

The formative time lag increases with increase in gap length and field non-uniformity. decreases with increase in over voltage applied. REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA 1. Similarly. However. a smaller over voltage results in higher statistical time lag.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II The larger the gap the higher is going to be the statistical time lag. the formative time lag depends mainly on the mechanism of breakdown. the transit time from anode to cathode will be the dominant factor determining the formative time. In cases when the secondary electrons arise entirely from electron emission at the cathode by positive ions.10. P-16 43 Deependra Singh .

therefore. therefore. therefore. The intrinsic strength is generally assumed to have been reached when electrons in the valance band gain sufficient energy from the electric field to cross the forbidden energy band to the conduction band. the temperature of electrons will exceed the lattice temperature and this will result into increase in the number Deependra Singh 44 .15. has been considered to be electronic in nature. In pure and homogenous materials. The impurity atoms may act as traps for free electrons in energy levels that lie just below the conduction band is small. always have some free electrons in the conduction band. and.. BREAKDOWN IN SOLID DIELECTRICS INTRINSIC BREAKDOWN Intrinsic Breakdown If the dielectric material is pure and homogeneous. The conductivity of pure dielectrics at room temperature is. In an amorphous dielectric the energy gained by electrons from the electric field is much more than they can transfer it to the lattice. the samples are so prepared that there is high stress in the centre of the specimen and much low stress at the corners as shown in Fig. zero. always have some free electrons in the conduction band. therefore. no electron can jump from valance band to the conduction band. However. As an electric field is applied. has some impurities and/or imperfections in their structural designs. the dielectric strength of the specimen increases rapidly to an upper limit known as intrinsic dielectric strength. 1. therefore. The intrinsic strength. the valence and the conduction bands are separated by a large energy gap at room temperature. the material itself and is affected by the ambient temperature as the structure itself might change slightly by temperature condition.e. the electrons gain energy and due to collisions between them the energy is shared by all electrons. the temperature and environmental conditions suitably controlled and if the voltage is applied for a very short time of the order of 10–8 second.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 14. depends mainly upon the structural design of the material i. An amorphous crystal will. The stresses required are of the order of one million volt/cm. therefore. An amorphous crystal will. At room temperature some of the trapped electrons will be excited thermally into the conduction band as the energy gap between the trapping band and the conduction band is small. The intrinsic breakdown is obtained in times of the order of 10–8 sec. in practice. no insulating material is pure and. Therefore. In order to obtain the intrinsic dielectric strength of a material.

it gains energy and on collision it loses a part of the energy. breakdown may occur. If the mean free path is long. The process continues and finally may lead to formation of an electron avalanche similar to gases and will lead finally to breakdown if the avalanche exceeds a certain critical size.1. the energy gained due to motion is more than lost during collision. An electron entering the conduction band of the dielectric at the cathode will move towards the anode under the effect of the electric field. During its movement. When an electrode embedded in a solid specimen is subjected to a uniform electric field. REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA 1.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II of trapped electrons reaching the conduction band and finally leading to complete breakdown. P-31 45 Deependra Singh .14.

These charge concentrations at the voids within the dielectric lead to breakdown step by step and finally lead to complete rupture of the dielectric. Suppose we have two electrodes separated by an insulating material and the assembly is placed in an outdoor environment. the gas has a relative permittivity of unity and the solid material εr.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 15. As a result. the electric field in the gas will be εr times the field in the solid material. Suppose some gas pockets are trapped in a solid material during manufacture. Similarly whenever a solid material has some impurities in terms of some gas pockets or liquid pockets in it the dielectric strength of the solid will be more or less equal to the strength of the weakest impurities. Since the breakdown is not caused by a single discharge channel and assumes a tree like structure as shown in Fig. Some contaminants in the form of moisture or dust particles will get deposited on the surface of the Deependra Singh 46 . The charge concentration in such voids is found to be quite large to give fields of the order of 10 MV/cm which is higher than even the intrinsic breakdown. 1. AVALANCHE BREAKDOWN Breakdown due to Treeing and Tracking (Avalanche Breakdown) We know that the strength of a chain is given by the strength of the weakest link in the chain. the gas breaks down at a relatively lower voltage. The treeing phenomenon can be readily demonstrated in a laboratory by applying an impulse voltage between point plane electrodes with the point embedded in a transparent solid dielectric such as perspex. The charge concentration here in the void will make the field more non-uniform.6. it is known as breakdown due to treeing. The treeing phenomenon can be observed in all dielectric wherever non-uniform fields prevail.

The sparks cause carbonization and volatilization of the insulation and lead to formation of permanent carbon tracks on the surface of insulations. for outdoor equipment. The current heats the moisture and causes breaks in the moisture films. REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA 1. tracking is the formation of a permanent conducting path usually carbon across the surface of insulation. tracking severely limits the use of insulation having organic substances.14. the insulating material must contain organic substances.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II insulation and leakage current starts between the electrodes through the contaminants say moisture.3. P-33 47 Deependra Singh . Therefore. For tracking to occur. For this reason. The rate of tracking can be slowed down by adding filters to the polymers which inhibit carbonization. These small films then act as electrodes and sparks are drawn between the films.

2 -- .8 1.5 2. Assuming that the temperature difference between the ambient and the specimen temperature is small. Table 1.8 1. Newton’s law of cooling is represented by a straight line.C.C. and D. thermal breakdown values for some dielectric under A. THERMAL BREAKDOWN When an insulating material is subjected to an electric field. Table 1. The conductivity of the material increases with increase in temperature and a condition of instability is reached when the heat generated exceeds the heat dissipated by the material and the material breaks down.3-1.5.0 7-18 1.05 0. Fig.17 shows various heating curves corresponding to different electric stresses as a function of specimen temperature.4 --- -- 2.45-2. A. Thermal Breakdown Voltage Maximum Thermal Voltage in MV/cm D.75 3. P-34 Deependra Singh 48 --- 24 38 12000 66 9.5 gives for thick specimen. Material Ceramics Organic Materials Crystals Quartz HV Steatite LF Steatite High Grade Porcelain Ebonite Polythene Polystyrene Polystyrene at 1MHz Acrylic Resins Mica Muscovite Rock Salt Perpendicular to axis Parallel to axis Impure REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA 1. the material gets heated up due to conduction current and dielectric losses due to polarization. 1.C.5 5.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 16.0 0.4.C. voltages at 20°C.14.

6.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 17. the dependence of Y on time and stress. then the electrically developed compressive stress is in equilibrium with the mechanical compressive strength if ε 0ε r V2 d  = Y ln 0  2 2d  d  (6. a further increase in V makes the thickness unstable and the specimen collapses.4) has a maximum when d/d0 = exp[-1/2] = 0. which decreases to a thickness of d(m) under an applied voltage V. If the intrinsic strength is not reached at this value. Therefore.6. if d0 is the initial thickness of a specimen of material of Young’s modulus Y. The pressure exerted when the field reaches about 106 V/cm may be several kN/m2. and also on plastic flow.6   d0  ε 0ε r  1/ 2 (6.3 P-66 49 Deependra Singh . The highest apparent strength is then given by  Y  V Ea = = 0 . Differentiating with respect to d we find that expression (6. NAIDU 4. REFERENCE: • HVE: KAMARAJU. ELECTRO MECHANICAL BREAKDOWN Substances which can deform appreciably without fracture may collapse when the electrostatic compression forces on the test specimen exceed its mechanical compressive strength. The compression forces arise from the electrostatic attraction between surface charges which appear when the voltage is applied. no real value of V can produce a stable value of d/d0 less than 0. Following Stark and Garton.5) This treatment ignores the possibility of instability occurring in the lower average field because of stress concentration at irregularities.4) Or V2 =d2 d  ln 0  ε 0ε r  d  2Y where ε0 and εr are the permittivity of free space and the relative permittivity of the dielectric.

where F= 1 (ε 2 − ε 1 ) gradE 2 3 2r 2ε 1 + ε 2 (3. it will give rise to local field enhancement depending on its shape. If the number of particles present is large. then the particles experience a force F. These impurities will be present as fibres or as dispersed solid particles. and it was also observed that the larger the size of the particles the lower were the breakdown strengths. local breakdown will occur near the particle. and if the applied field is E. If we consider these impunities to be spherical particles of radius r.e.). If this field exceeds the breakdown strength of the liquid.1) This force is directed towards areas of maximum stress. The vales of the breakdown strength of liquids containing solid impurities was found to be much less than the values for pure liquids. and thus form a stable chain bridging the electrode gap causing a breakdown between the electrodes. and this will result in the formation of gas bubbles which may lead to the breakdown of the liquid. The permittivity of these particles (ε2) will be different from the permittivity of the liquid (ε1).High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 18. the force will be in the direction of areas of lower stress. for example. REFERENCE: • HVE: KAMARAJU. On the other hand.4. ε2 < ε1. if ε2 > ε1. if only gas bubbles are present in the liquid. then this force drives the particles towards the areas of maximum stress.C. the presence of solid impurities cannot be avoided. in the case of the presence of solid particles like paper in the liquid. BREAKDOWN OF LIQUIDS DIELECTRIC: DIELECTRICS SUSPENDED PARTICLE THEORY In commercial liquids.C.) or the duration of the voltage is long (A. If the voltage is continuously applied (D.1 P-56 Deependra Singh 50 . The impurity particles reduce the breakdown strength. they become aligned due to these forces. If there is only a single conducting particle between the electrodes. NAIDU 3. i.

Typical strengths for several highly pure liquids are included in Table 6. hυ the quantum of energy lost in ionizing the molecule and c an arbitrary constant. This suggests that the cathode process is field-emission rather than thermionic emission. 6. eEλ = chυ (6. It is possible that the return of positive ions and particularly positively charged foreign particles to the cathode will cause local field enhancements and give rise to local electron emission. Breakdown measurements carried out over a wide range of temperatures. λ the electron mean free path. These electrons are accelerated until they gain sufficient energy to ionize molecules on collisions and initiate avalanche. J. Kuffel. In the electronic theory of breakdown it is assumed that some electrons gain more energy from the field than they lose in collisions with molecules.13) where E is the applied field. Conduction studies in insulating liquids at high fields show that most experimental data for current fits well the Schottky-type equation in which the current is temperature dependent. W. however. show little temperature dependence.2. Zaengl.S.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 19. Once the electron is injected into the liquid it gains energy from the applied field. The condition for the onset of electron avalanche is obtained by equating the gain in energy of an electron over its mean free path to that required for ionization of the molecule. ELECTRONIC BREAKDOWN Electronic breakdown Both the field-emission and the field-enhanced thermionic emission mechanisms discussed earlier have been considered responsible for the current at the cathode.2.1 P-386-387 51 Deependra Singh . REFERENCE: • HVE: E. Kuffel.

The processes by which bubbles are formed include: (i) Gas pockets on the electrode surface. REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA.2 P-22-23 Deependra Singh 52 . 1. Kao has developed a more accurate expression for the ‘bubble’ breakdown field strength which is of the form  2πσ (2ε 1 + ε 2 ) π    r   4  where σ is the surface tension of the liquid. and the breakdown strength will usually depend upon the nature of impurities present.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 20. which is assumed to elongate under the influence of the field). discharge takes place which will lead to decomposition of the liquid and breakdown may follow. (iv) Liquid vaporization by corona-type discharges from points and irregularities on the electrodes.25)   are the permittivities of the liquid and  Vb   2rE0 the bubble respectively. The electric field in a spherical gas bubble which is immersed in a liquid of permittivity εliq is given by: 3E 0 ε liq + 2 where E0 is the field in the liquid in the absence of the bubble. A strong dependence of liquid breakdown strength upon the applied hydrostatic pressure has been observed experimentally. ε1 and ε2 1 E0 = ε1 − ε 2 1/ 2    − 1 (6. When the field Eb becomes Eb = equal to the gaseous ionization field. CAVITY BREAKDOWN (BUBBLE’S THEORY) Insulating liquids may contain gaseous inclusions in the form of bubbles. and Vb is the voltage drop in the bubble. r is the initial radius of the bubble (initially spherical. (ii) Changes in temperature and pressure. Commercial insulating liquids cannot readily be subjected to highly elaborated purification treatment. (iii) Dissociation of products by electron collisions giving rise to gaseous products.11. This expression indicates that the critical electric field strength required for breakdown of liquid depends upon the initial size of the bubble which is affected by the external pressure and temperature.

The resulting space charge gives rise to coulombic forces which under certain conditions causes hydrodynamic instability.2 P-23-24 53 Deependra Singh . the speed of the eddy motion is given by νe= ε 2 / ρ where ρ is the density of liquid.0 2.5 Methanol H+ 33. The charge transport will be largely by liquid motion rather than by ionic drift.3 200 Thus. In liquids.4). the ionic drift velocity is given by νd = KE where K is the mobility of ions.5 4.4 Medium Ion ε M Air NTP O-2 1. It has been shown that the onset of instability is associated with a critical voltage. When a highly pure insulating liquid is subjected to high voltage.3x10-2 Ethanol Cl- 2. in the theory of electro-convection.5 26. electrical conduction results from charge carriers injected into the liquid from the electrode surface.5 22 Nitrobenzene Cl Propylene Carbonate Cl- 69 51 Transformer Oil H+ 2. Table: 1. The criterion for instability is that the local flow velocity should be greater than drift velocity. It has been shown that when the voltage applied is near to breakdown value. interaction between the space charge and the electric field gives rise to forces creating an eddy motion of liquid. 1. REFERENCE: • HVE: C L WADHWA.11. Thus. the motion at first exhibits a structure of hexagonal cells and as the voltage is increased further the motion becomes turbulent. ELECTRO CONVECTION BREAKDOWN Electro-convection Breakdown It has been recognized that the electro-convection plays an important role in breakdown of insulating fluids subjected to high voltages. M plays a dominant role. As the applied voltage approaches the critical voltage. yielding convecting current.1 - 35.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II 21. Let M νe ε2 = / KE νd ρ The ratio M is usually greater than unity and sometimes much greater than unity (Table 1.

12 Derive an expression for critical electric field and show that the field is independent of the critical temperature of the dielectric. 7 Discuss various criteria suggested by researchers for transition from avalanche to streamer. Q. What is time-lag? Discuss its components and the factors which affect these components. Explain the Townsend’s criterion for a spark. Explain the process of breakdown in electronegative gases. 11 Derive an expression for maximum thermal voltage and show that the voltage is independent of thickness of specimen. Q. 5 State various processes which lead to formation of bubbles in liquid dielectrics and explain clearly cavity breakdown mechanism in liquid dielectrics. Explain the limitations of Townsend’s theory? Q. 1 Define Townsend’s first and second ionization coefficients. 9 Describe briefly various mechanism of breakdown in solids. 8 What is corona discharge? Explain clearly Anode and Cathode coronas. Q. Q. Q. Q. State the assumptions made. Discuss various factors which affect breakdown of gases. 10 What are ‘Treeing’ and ‘Tracking’? Explain both processes in solid dielectrics. How do you account for the minimum voltage for breakdown under a given pd condition? Q. How this mechanism is more significant than the other mechanisms? Q. 4 Briefly describe various theories of breakdown in liquid dielectrics. 3 Explain the mechanism of development of anode and cathode streamers and explain how these lead to breakdown. Q. Explain Thermal breakdown in solid dielectrics. State clearly the assumptions made. 6 What is electro-convection? Explain liquid breakdown based on electro-convection. Q. 2 State and explain Paschen’s law.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II PROBLEMS Q. 13 What do you mean by ‘Intrinsic strength’ of a solid dielectric? Explain electric breakdown of solid dielectrics. Explain suspended particle mechanism of liquid breakdown. 15 What is “conditioning of electrodes”? How does it affect breakdown in vacuum? Discuss the effect of ‘‘Area of electrode’’ and ‘‘Effect of pressure’’ on the breakdown of vacuum. Q. Deependra Singh 54 . Q. Q. 14 Discuss the application of gases in electric power apparatus.

Set 1: Gap Distance (mm) Applied Voltage V (volts) Observed Current I (A) 0.1 cm results in a current of 5.0 3. The capacitor is expected to have a capacitance of 1000pF and to operate at 15kV.4 cm between the plane electrodes. and tan δ = 0.5x10-13 3x10-13 6x10-13 10-12 5x10-12 5x10-11 3x10-10 10-8 Q. 21 A solid dielectric specimen of dielectric constant of 4.0 5. Compute the values of the Townsend's primary and secondary ionization coefficients from the data given. 16 Given Table gives the sets of observations obtained while studying the Townsend phenomenon in a gas. Select a suitable insulating material and give the dimensions of the electrodes.5x10-9A. Q.5x10-8 A at 8 kV at a distance of 0. If the void is filled with air and if the breakdown strength of air can be taken as 30kV(peak)/cm. 55 Deependra Singh .5 3. 17 What will the breakdown strength of air be for small gaps (1 mm) and large gaps (20 cm) under uniform field conditions and standard atmospheric conditions? Q. Keeping the field constant and reducing the distance to 0. Q. find the voltage at which an internal discharge can occur. The specimen is 1cm thick and is subjected to a voltage of 80 kV (rms). If it is subjected to an alternating field of 50kV/cm. 19 In an experiment for determining the breakdown strength of transformer oil. Gap spacing (mm) 4 6 10 12 Voltage at breakdown (kV) 90 140 210 255 Q. 18 In an experiment in a certain gas it was found that the steady state current is 5.2.5 2. the following observations were made.0 1000 2000 3000 4000 5000 6000 7000 8000 10000 -11 -10 10 -13 3x10 -13 6x10 -13 10 -12 4x10 -12 10 10 10 -9 5x10-7 Set 2: Applied Voltage V (volts) Observed Current I (A) 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 3000 3500 4000 4500 5x10-14 1. 500 kHz. Q.5 4.0 2. 20 A solid specimen of dielectric has a dielectric constant of 4.0 shown in the figure has an internal void of thickness 1mm.0 1.5 1.001 at a frequency of 50Hz. Determine the power law dependence between the gap spacing and the applied voltage of the oil. calculate the heat generated in the specimen due to the dielectric loss. 22 A coaxial cylindrical capacitor is to be designed with an effective length of 20cm.High Voltage Engineering UnitUnit-II Q. Calculate Townsend's primary ionization coefficient α.