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Vacuum/volume45/number 5/pages 565 to 568/1994

~ Pergamon Copyright 1994 Elsevier Science Ltd

Printed in Great Britain. All rights reserved

Electric strength of v a c u u m gap under various

voltage conditions
K r z y s z t o f S i o d l a a n d W a l d e m a r Z i o m e k , Technical University of Poznan, The Institute of Electrical Power
Engineering, 3a Piotrowo Str, 60-965 Poznan, Poland

Although the electric strength of vacuum gap under various voltage conditions has been discussed in many papers,
research on this subject is still ongoing. The first stage of our investigations was examining the prebreakdown
state of vacuum gap under ac voltage excitation. Field electron emission in short vacuum gap (0-2 mm) and
microdischarges in long vacuum gap (over 10 mm) were analyzed. Field electron emission current was measured
with an unbalanced hv bridge. Next, using voltage-current characteristics analysis, the parameters of field electron
emission were obtained. The microdischarges phenomenon was monitored with a multichannel pulse-height
analyzer. The relation between breakdown voltage and the parameters characterizing prebreakdown phenomena
was then determined. Finally, the characteristics of electric strength under ac (50 Hz), switching impulse
(250/2500 I~S) and lightning impulse (1.2/50 #s) voltages were obtained. The investigations were carried out with
Cu-Cr contacts in a wide range of interelectrode distance (0.5-12 mm).

1. Introduction describe because it involves choosing appropriate measuring

procedures, change of time parameters and impulse polarization.
Determining the electric strength of a vacuum insulating system
The other problem concerns the possibility of electric strength
is a very complex problem, because each breakdown causes
evaluation without necessity for the breakdown effect execution.
changes in the parameters characterizing the state of this system
According to our investigations this is possible using measure-
(e.g. the changes in surface micro-relief, residual gas pressure,
ments of parameters characterizing the prebreakdown state. We
physical and chemical structure of electrodes). It is practically
utilize the fact that electric strength depends on prebreakdown
impossible to effectively observe all parameters of a vacuum
phenomena intensity and their complex measurement should
system state, which makes precision evaluation of electric
allow us to evaluate vacuum system ability to initiate the break-
strength unachievable. The problem is more complicated in the
down effect. In these investigations we should consider that for
case of technical systems--the extinguishing chamber of a vac-
short vacuum gap (0-2 mm) the dominant phenomenon is field
uum interrupter, for example--because real vacuum and surface
electron emission and for long gap (over 10 mm) the micro-
conditions are unknown. We can determine these only indirectly,
discharges are typical. Therefore the measurements of the par-
through intensity evaluation of phenomena occurring under an
ameters characterizing the prebreakdown state according to both
electric field (e.g. field electron emission current, microdischarge
of those phenomena (i.e. microdischarges and field electron emis-
intensity, X-ray intensity). Thus there are two basic engineering
sion) should be applied. If we know the values of the parameters
tasks: (1) direct evaluation of electric strength of a vacuum
describing the prebreakdown state, we can define breakdown
system and its changes as a function of time, kind and parameters
voltage. We must take into account that increasing the field
of voltage, number of breakdowns, etc., and (2) forecasting
electron emission current increasing the local temperature, at
electric strength using relations between breakdown voltage
both the emission site on the cathode and in the electron-bom-
and the parameters describing the intensity of prebreakdown
barded area of the anode, results in thermal instability that finally
leads to breakdown. Also, the increase of charge transferred by
Exact evaluation of the electric strength of a vacuum insulating
microdischarges causes a rise of energy exchanged between the
system is obviously impossible, even after a conditioning process,
electrodes accompanied by an increase of local temperature--
because each breakdown changes the investigated object and
which finally results in breakdown ~ 3.
after subsequent breakdown electric strength is unknown again.
Direct evaluation of electric strength using breakdown voltage
2. Experimental procedure
measuring makes sense only for conditioned objects (e.g. after a
~ew dozen breakdowns) and in such cases we can give values for The test objects were extinguishing chambers of the vacuum
~:he central tendency of population and measures of variability interrupter of rated voltage equal to 12 kV. Electrodes were made
(e.g. range, standard deviation, population variance for normal of C u - C r sinter. Duging our investigations, the interelectrode
distribution). By means of statistical tests Chi-Square and gap was changed from 0.5 to 12 mm. Residual gas pressure was
Lambda-Kolmogorov) it has been determined that the break- of the order of 10 3 Pa.
down voltage distributions were described best by the Weibull's The vacuum interrupter chambers were first investigated under
and normal distributions. This note concerns both ac and atmospheric conditions but when flashover voltage across the
impulse voltages, but impulse strength is more difficult to external insulating surface of the envelope was lower than the
K Siodla and WZiomek: Electric strength of v a c u u m gap

breakdown voltage between electrodes inside the chamber, then :35

the chamber was immersed in a tank of transformer oil in order
to improve its outer electric strength during tests.
kV :o",. i i i
For ac measurements (including prebreakdown state analy- 30
sis) the hv transformer 0.22/150 kV was used. As an impulse
voltage source the Haefely Multi Test Set was used. It produces
a switching impulse of 250/2500 /~s and lightning impulses of 2S
1.2/50/~s, of peak voltage up to 400 kV and energy up to 600 J.
Field emission current was measured in an hv unbalanced
bridge. The current sensitivity was 10- 6 A. Microdischarges were 20 ..................... -~"~-L~
measured using a typical arrangement for partial discharges
measurement, which was improved by a multichannel pulse-
height analyzer (1024-channels) combined with a micro-
15 I . . . . .

In order to determine the relations between breakdown voltage
and the parameters characterizing the prebreakdown state, the
following procedure was repeated : voltage was raised from zero
to a preselected value, at which the parameters of prebreakdown
state could be taken; then voltage was raised until breakdown
occurred. After that, voltage was decreased to zero and the pro- 5
cedure was repeated. Further details about experimental pro-
cedure can be found in refs 3-8.
3. R e s u l t s and d i s c u s s i o n 500 600 700 000 900

The investigations were carried out in a wide range of inter- Figure 2. Breakdown voltage Ubas a function of electric field enhancement
electrode gap (from 0.5 to 12 mm). We were looking for relations factor J3. Interelectrode distance equal to 1.5 mm : Ub = 145013 062 [kV]
between breakdown voltage and the chosen parameters char- at r '~= 0.75.
acterizing the prebreakdown stage of the vacuum gap. The inves-
tigated relations were approximated using the simple regression
method with a few basic functions (linear, power, reciprocal,
voltage U, causing a field electron emission current equal to
exponential, logarithmic) and finally the function characterized
10-6 A. The relation Lib = f(U~) was approximated by a linear
by the greatest coefficient of determination r 2 was chosen.
function. The coefficient of determination r 2 was very high in the
Figure 1 presents the dependence of breakdown voltage Ub on
investigated relationship.
Figure 2 presents one chosen typical characteristic of break-
35 down voltage Ub as a function of field enhancement factor /L
This characteristic was obtained by the power function (in some
kV Ub i //
cases the linear approximation was also effective).
30 On the basis of the charge distributions and the content of
channels obtained during pulse-height analysis, we can choose
from among the other parameters, total charge Q transferred by
25 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
microdischarges in count time, and the number of pulses N in
count time 6,7
In Figure 3 we see the relation of breakdown voltage to the
number of pulses counted within 60 s and in Figure 4 the depen-
dence of breakdown voltage upon total charge Q transferred
by microdischarges in the same time is shown. These relations
/ . . . . . . . .
were described by mathematical functions and determination
Figure 5 presents the comparison of breakdown voltage of the
vacuum chamber (internal--between electrodes, external--at the
10 surface of the envelope) under ac, LI, SI conditions for elec-
trodes set to a nominal distance of 12 mm. Mean values of
breakdown voltage are shown, dispersion of these results was in
the range of 1 5%. Such small values of dispersion were achieved
because the chamber was well prepared by the conditioning pro-
cess (conditioning by several hundred ac and impulse voltage
0 I I E I i t i i I t h i I breakdowns). Using the impulse factor k~, defined as the ratio of
5 iO i5 kV 20 impulse voltage to ac voltage in the same conditions, we notice
Figure 1. Relation between breakdown voltage Ub and voltage Uecausing its little changes for internal strength (k~ = 1.2-1.3) and bigger
field electron emission current of 10-6 A. Interelectrode distance equal changes for external strength (k~ = 1.3-1.7). The increase of
to 1 mm: Ub = 1.55Ue+7,7 [kV] at r 2 = 0.97. impulse breakdown voltage of positive polarity in vacuum and

KSiodla and WZiomek: Electric strength of v a c u u m gap

. . . . . . . . . . . . i'"
kV IUb. j . : ! 300




"7!5 . . . . . . "'"-"-'- 100


20 AC LI(-) Sl(-) Sl(+) LI(+)

Figure 5. Comparison of breakdown voltages under various voltage con-

ditions (AC voltage, lightning impulse voltage and switching impulse
voltage) for vacuum interrupter in the air (external strength) and
immersed in the transformer oil (internal strength). Electrode distance
2N . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
equal to 12 ram.

q for negative polarity u n d e r a t m o s p h e r i c conditions indicates t h a t

0 I I I I F iII l I I P I II. I I [ I J r I
there is a certain a s y m m e t r y between the investigated object a n d
10 100 1000 pC 10000 the ground. The electrode u n d e r high voltage has less curvature
Figure 3. Relation of breakdown voltage to total charge Q transferred by t h a n the g r o u n d e d electrode.
microdischarges in count time equal to 60 s. Charge Q [pC] was measured Figure 6 shows the dependence o f b r e a k d o w n voltage o n inter-
at voltage of 45 kV (peak value): Ub = 116 Q 0.037 [kV] at r 2 = 0.72. electrode distance for ac, lightning a n d switching impulses o f
b o t h ( + ) a n d ( - ) polarities. It m a y be noticed that the value o f
b r e a k d o w n voltage is slightly d e p e n d e n t o n the v a c u u m gap
length in a range o f distances f r o m 4 to 12 mm. W h e n the distance
is smaller, i.e. 0.5 to 4 mm, b r e a k d o w n voltage strongly depends
o n the gap length. This dependence o f b r e a k d o w n voltage o n gap
length m a y be described by the power function Ub = ad b. F o r

150 I I
300 , , , p , , , [ , , , i , i , r r , r l l l ~ -
kV Ub
kV ub

200 .... i

x'" ~ LI(+)
50 .......... ............. ...............
! 'x / /
.+- L I ( - )



." ~ AC

0 J I r N d
0 ~ ~ J I ~ ~ ~ J , r ~ P J , t F r ~ ~ I ~ J z
ze 1oo looo 10000 loeeee
0 2 4 6 8 10 mm 12
Figure4. Breakdown voltage Ub as a function of number N of impulses.
The impulses were counted before breakdown during 60 s at voltage 45 Figure 6. Breakdown voltage (ac, LI, SI) as a function of interelectrode
kV (peak value) : Ub = 145 N -0'47 [kV] at r 2 = 0.96. distance d for a vacuum interrupter immersed in oil.

K Siodla and W Ziomek: Electric s t r e n g t h o f v a c u u m g a p

1.B i ~ i i i i i ~ i [ i i i I i ~ i ] i 4. C o n c l u s i o n s

ki The investigated relations between breakdown voltage and the

LI(+) parameters characterizing prebreakdown state (voltage Ue, factor
+- L I ( - ) /3, charge Q, number of pulses N) prove that these parameters
~ ~ ~ $I(+) may be treated as evaluation criteria of electroinsulating prop-
E] $ I ( - ) erties of a vacuum gap.
A well-conditioned vacuum interrupter demonstrates much
greater internal electric strength than an external one. For a
nominal distance of 12 mm we can observe little differences in
internal strength independent of kind and polarity of impulse
voltage. Conversely, the external strength of a vacuum inter-
1.4 "",,"G~ ] rupter strongly depends on the kind and polarity of impulse
voltage. Asymmetry of the investigated object toward the ground
is observed the electrode under high voltage has virtually less
curvature than the grounded one.
Impulse breakdown voltage slightly changes in a wide range
1.R of interelectrode distance over 4 mm. The power function
describes well the relationship between breakdown voltage and
-T interelectrode distance with exponents ranging from 0.2 to 0.35
for impulse voltages, and an exponent equal to 0.4 for ac
d I

0 R 4 6 8 10 mm 1R
Figure 7. Impulse factor k~ as a function of interelectrode distance d for References
internal strength for vacuum interrupter (immersed in transformer oil).
~R V Latham, High Voltage Vacuum Insulation. The Physical Basis.
Academic Press, London, New York, Sydney (1981).
2G A Mesyats and D J Proskurovsky, Pulsed Electrical Discharge in
Vacuum. Springer, Berlin (1989).
lightning and switching impulse voltages the exponent b is in 3H Moscicka-Grzesiak, K Siodla and W Ziomek, Vllth lnt Syrup on
the range of 0.2-0.35, and factor a varies from 142 to 149, at High Voltage Engn9, Dresden, Germany (1991).
determination coefficient r 2 = 0.85-0.95. For ac voltage b = 0.4, 4K Siodla, XIVth Int Symp on Discharges and Electrieal Insulation in
Vacuum, Santa Fe, USA (1990).
a = 88 and r 2 = 0.95. Such values of the determination co- sW Ziomek and H Moscicka-Grzesiak, 19901EEE Int Symp on Electrical
efficient, so close to unity, mean that the presented dependence Insulation, Toronto, Canada (1990).
of breakdown voltage on electrode distance is very strong. 6W Ziomek and H Moscicka-Grzesiak, Xth Int Conf on Gas Discharges
In Figure 7 the impulse factor k~ vs gap distance is presented. and Their Applications, Swansea, UK (1992).
7W Ziomek and H Moscicka-Grzesiak, XVth Int Symp on Discharges
We see that this factor has got a similar run for all kinds of impulses and Electrical Insulation in Vacuum, Darmstadt, Germany (1992).
with values above 1.5 for distances less than 2 mm and less than K Siodla and P Zubielik, XVth Int Symp on Discharges and Electrical
1.3 for nominal gap equal to 12 mm. Insulation in Vacuum, Darmstadt, Germany (1992).