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An Assessment of Material Selection

for High Voltage DC Extruded Polymer
Key words: high voltage DC, extruded cable, cable materials

Introduction C. W. Reed
This contribution to the Electrical Insulation Special Issue
provides an assessment of the present major insulation candi-
Consultant, Scotia, NY 12302, USA
dates, under development or ready for commercialization, for
high voltage DC (HVDC) extruded polymer cables in Europe,
Japan, and China. It is a contribution on behalf of the Dielec-
trics and Electrical Insulation Society (DEIS) Working Group
This article provides an assessment
on HVDC Cable Systems [1]. It is noted that interest in extruded of the present major insulation can-
polymer HVDC cables by IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine didates, under development or ready
dates back to the Nov/Dec 1997 issue of volume 13, when cross-
linked polyethylene (XLPE) was well established and compet- for commercialization, for high volt-
ing with ethylene propylene rubber for this technology. age DC extruded polymer cables in
The 2015 review by Chen and colleagues [2] provides a com-
prehensive picture of the significant activity and development
Europe, Japan, and China.
worldwide of the commercial installations and plans for the next
decade for HVDC cables, and of the different alternative insula-
tion technologies involved, including the use of extruded poly- [6] are also noteworthy. Indeed, DEIS, in both IEEE Transac-
mers for the major installation, with its many advantages that the tions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation and IEEE Elec-
materials and application methods afford related to accessories trical Insulation Magazine articles, has covered the creation of
such as splices and terminations. space charge in many issues. Historically, it is noted that in the
As noted in the Chen article, an important factor in the selec- 1959 book Progress in Dielectrics, John Mason [7] reported on
tion of a suitable insulation system for use in such extruded poly- the significant reduction in DC breakdown of polyethylene by
mer cables for HVDC is the presence and development/growth prestressing with either negative or positive DC voltages.
of space charge through the radial thickness of the insulation, in Recommendations of procedures for the qualification of pro-
particular at the interface with the inner and outer semiconduc- spective HVDC insulation systems prior to their acceptance by
tors (semicons), and the consequent localized enhancement of the cable manufacturer are documented in CIGRE Brochure
the internal electric field, potentially impacting electro-thermal 496, from CIGRE Working Group B1.32, for voltages up to 500
cable aging and unanticipated electrical breakdown. kV [8]. HVDC cable manufacturers also make use of CIGRE
The current understanding of space charge development Technical Brochure 219, for voltages up to 300 kV, the prede-
and aging in present HVDC cable insulation materials and ac- cessor document to CIGRE Technical Brochure 496, or of IEC
celerated life testing of such materials is clearly summarized in 60840 (edition 4) and IEC 62067 (edition 2) modifications of
CIGRE Technical Brochure 636, prepared by CIGRE Working these CIGRE documents.
Group D1.23, issued in November 2015 [3]. For basic treatment The scope of space charge measurements that may be in-
of the chemistry and physics of space charge development in cluded in qualification for HVDC cable use is given in Section
polymers, including compounded materials as used in extruded 2 “Development Tests” of CIGRE Technical Brochure 496. It is
cables, three IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine articles [4]– written that “the manufacturer should complete all analyses and

22 0883-7554/17/©2017/IEEE IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine

development testing prior to commencing the prequalification pounding of the components where filtration of adventitious
test. The precise nature and extent of development work, and impurities and gel particles is performed); plus, on-line QC
analyses should be left to the discretion of the manufacturer but measurements (transmission infrared and other properties) are
may include the following: performed on the molten extrudate, in advance of the crucial
insulation extrusion with “pure” polymer constituents.
• An evaluation of the materials and processes involved. Such This has led to commercial HVAC XLPE cables in the range
evaluations would normally include electrical resistivity of 500 kV and above, and, at the same time, to the steady ex-
measurements, breakdown tests, and space charge mea- amination of space charge behavior with laboratory and lower
surements. voltage cables in considering XLPE for HVDC. In Japan, work
• An analysis of the electric field distribution within the ca- has identified the potential detrimental role of some antioxidants
ble system insulation for a range of typical installation and used for improving XLPE thermal performance, and of some
loading conditions. voltage stabilizers, used for enhancing breakdown and aging
• An assessment of the long-term stability, possibly involving performance, but sometimes these results are at elevated stress
factory experiments to assess the ageing effects of various levels above the normal HVDC cable operational level used with
parameters, e.g., electrical stress, temperature, environmen- nonextruded polymer designs. Thus, the author believes the cor-
tal conditions, etc. rect acceptability of these normal AC additives, which serve
• An assessment of the sensitivity of the electric stress distri- beneficial roles, is uncertain for DC application. Never the less,
bution to the expected variations in cable dimensions, ma- a goal of suppressing space charge behavior and of depressing
terial composition and process conditions (extrusion, post anode and cathode charge injection is viewed as essential.
extrusion treatments, and finishing).” Other work from Japanese industry has been successful in
identifying beneficial roles for space charge suppression from
As described above, CIGRE Technical Brochure 636 provides the use of nano-particles of MgO [11], or select carbon blacks,
a useful examination of thermo-electrical aging mechanisms in- or SiO2; or from the inclusion of unspecified molecular level
volved with space charge effects in polyethylene and XLPE dur- polar groups [12]. Generally, the mechanism by which these
ing Technical Brochure 496 Development and Pre-qualification nano-particles or polar groups are considered to be effective is
Testing. their ability to act as traps for electrons or holes (which some
For application as transmission class (up to 600 kV or higher) authors assume originate from the inner and outer semicon inter-
extruded polymer submarine cable designs, consideration herein faces) or as traps for other intentionally added polar molecules.
is given to both traditional chemically cross-linked polyethylene We have not found much information on the bonding of these
(XLPE), which has demonstrated excellent capability for me- nanoparticles to the base XLPE structure, but likely solid cova-
dium voltage AC and high voltage AC (HVAC) extruded cables, lent bonding via a select coupling agent will enhance long-term
and to newer (polycrystalline) thermoplastic polymer primary performance.
insulation designs, with special consideration to space charge In Japan, two major cable companies have claimed the de-
formation under continuous DC voltage service or polarity re- velopment of 500-kV HVDC XLPE cable systems [12], [13], in
versal. We report that both classes of polymer are considered compliance with CIGRE qualification recommendations, claim-
by leading cable manufacturers worldwide to be qualified and ing the absence of space charge problems up to 90°C.
available for commercial installation. Three major HV cable companies in Europe have made ma-
jor progress since the early 1990s in developing, producing, and
Chemically Cross-Linked Polyethylene commissioning transmission level cables using XLPE extruded
(XLPE) polymer cable technology, to progressively higher voltages, first
The use of dicumyl peroxide for the chemical cross-linking for AC application but also for DC application, for both under-
of polyethylene was invented by Albert Gilbert and Frank Pre- ground and subsea applications.
copio in 1963 [9], leading to the development of XLPE extruded In 2014 A. Gustafsson and colleagues [14] introduced a new
cables for AC and DC applications up to the present. Progres- 525-kV extruded HVDC cable system and summarized their ex-
sively, the technology was enhanced by the implementation of perience with DC cable installations worldwide, of progressive-
coextruded inner and outer carbon black-filled semiconducting ly increased voltage level and cable lengths across and between
polymer (semicon) and the removal (in a highly monitored de- continents. A “new” XLPE DC insulation is cited for the 525-kV
gassing procedure) of chemical bi-products from the chemical design, but no further detail was provided on any differences
cross-linking by dicumyl peroxide such as methane gas, aceto- in the chemistry involved or of space charge assessments made
phenone, and cumyl alcohol [10], in order to improve XLPE during the design, construction, and qualification testing.
against treeing breakdown and other problems. And, in the past The second major cable manufacturing company [15] leading
20 years or so, high pressure nitrogen gas rather than steam has the way with advanced HVDC technology is also a company of-
been used to heat the polymer and initiate cross-linking by the fering a wide range of electrical equipment and experience with
peroxide. Additionally, there have been steady improvements in advanced insulating materials to support such equipment. The
polymer purity and manufacturing (the switch to vertical extru- company’s focus for both HVAC and HVDC cable technology is
sion equipment, clean room practices, and extrusion precom- also based on XLPE technology, extending to as high as 800 kV
(albeit for a short length of transmission cable located in China)

July/August — Vol. 33, No. 4 23

and for the first submarine HVDC cable with a 600-kV rating ume resistivity, and high breakdown strength. However, hetero
connecting Scotland and England. space charge accumulation was still considered an issue.
The third major cable company [16] of note in developing In 2015 Green and coauthors [19], in the culmination of sev-
and commercializing HVDC extruded polymer cable technolo- eral years’ work, recognizing the thermal benefit of using poly-
gy is highly focused as a HVAC and HVDC cable manufacturing propylene and also its inherent stiffness limitation, performed a
company, with notable in-house material development expertise. comprehensive compositional optimization of a self-assembling
Furthermore, in 2016 the company successfully completed the blend of propylene homopolymer with propylene-ethylene co-
development and commercial introduction of both “new” XLPE polymer. Laboratory experiments were followed by mini-cable
HVDC technology and thermoplastic polymer high performance trials on the optimized blend, from which the authors conclude
thermoplastic elastomer HVDC technology, as noted below. the following advantages of a thermoplastic solution relative to
XLPE: good low temperature flexibility, good high temperature
Mitigation/Suppression of Potential Space Charge integrity up to about 140°C, and increased breakdown strength.
Problems with XLPE The authors also conclude that the optimized blend will have
As noted above, cable companies in both Japan and Europe, increased ease of manufacture and reduced whole-life environ-
using different suppression approaches, have qualified HVDC mental impact.
extruded cable technology for operation in the 500- to 600-kV Bin Dang [20] demonstrated an alternative option for poly-
range, according to recommended industry procedures. crystalline polypropylene thermoplastic using syndiotactic poly-
propylene, versus the isotactic polypropylene favored by Green
Thermoplastic Polymers and colleagues. Aware of the slower crystallization rates with
In parallel with work in laboratories and by manufacturers to the syndiotactic form, it was found that compounding with SiO2
upgrade and qualify XLPE-based extruded formulations, over nanoparticles, using a vinyl silane coupling agent, corrected the
the past decade, the option of using a thermoplastic polymer ma- slower rates, as the nanoparticle provided the role of nucleating
jor insulation as an alternative to XLPE has been under steadily agent. (A similar effect has also been found with other nanopar-
increasing pioneering investigation at research organizations ticles in the crystallization of polycrystalline thermoplastics.) A
and major cable manufacturing companies in Europe, Japan, significant reduction in space charge formation plus a significant
and China. Thermoplastic polymer major insulation is used to increase in DC resistivity were found, leading to the authors’
avoid the cross-linking chemistry in using dicumyl peroxide and consideration of syndiotactic polypropylene/SiO2 for extruded
the subsequent need for degassing to remove the residual chemi- HCDC cable application.
cal species (methane, acetophenone, cumyl alcohol, etc.), ad- In 2015 Marco Albertini and coauthors [21] announced the
ditionally aiming to extend the operating temperature above the development of a “P-Laser” polypropylene thermoplastic insu-
generally assumed limit for XLPE of 90°C and provide better lation system with enhanced thermo-mechanical properties for
accommodation for occasional current overloads. 320-kV DC cable application. Tests on model cables were fol-
The material of choice to achieve this is the thermoplastic lowed by production of a prototype for 320-kV insulation class,
polypropylene, which like polyethylene, is a simple polyolefin electrical assessment of the prototype, and subsequent prequali-
synthesized following the cracking of petroleum. Whereas poly- fication tests performed at 90°C on a complete system, in com-
ethylene has chains of adjacent -CH- groups, in either (mainly) pliance with CIGRE TB 496.
linear or branched configuration, alternate carbon atoms in poly- In September 2016 in further work by the same cable manu-
propylene chains have methyl (-CH3) side groups. It is the in- facturer, the successful development and testing of a new (up-
termolecular van der Waals forces due to these methyl groups graded) P-Laser cable system, identified also as high perfor-
that increase the thermal qualities (crystalline melting point and mance thermoplastic elastomer), was announced for 600-kV
glass transition temperature) of polypropylene over those of ultrahigh voltage DC cable application [22]. The newer high
polyethylene, offering thermal capabilities in excess of 100°C, performance thermoplastic elastomer system is highlighted as
possibly as high as 140°C for limited periods of time. However, a single continuous process, not requiring dicumyl peroxide
polypropylene does have certain weak properties such as low chemistry, allowing more efficient cable production and with
temperature brittleness, requiring innovation via blends or co- better environmental sustainability.
polymers with polyethylene or other polymers to correct such
weaknesses. Mitigation/Suppression of Potential Space Charge
Yoshifuji and colleagues [17] pursued a non-polypropylene Problems with Thermoplastic Insulation Designs
approach using high density polyethylene modified by grafting The susceptibility of the new thermoplastic candidates iden-
a polar group to enhance thermal performance, improve break- tified above to space charge development under sustained in-
down, and provide space charge trapping. With poling voltages service DC voltages or to accelerated (higher or much higher)
of 30 kV/mm, space charge decreased with increasing stress, DC laboratory test voltages has yet to be openly and thoroughly
while DC breakdown was superior to that of XLPE. assessed. However, the writer anticipates that cable manufac-
In laboratory studies, Yao Zhou and colleagues [18] pursued turers pursuing such technology will have implemented suitable
polypropylene/polyolefin elastomer blends, showing several en- corrective measures, as dictated in TB 496, Section 2. The same
hanced properties relative to polypropylene and XLPE, includ- or similar options for the prevention of charge injection/suppres-
ing improved thermal performance, better flexibility, high vol- sion via modified semicon materials or fluorocarbon additives/

24 IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine

coatings, or by trapping using nanofillers such as MgO or SiO2, [8] Working Group B1.32, “Recommendations for Testing DC Extruded Ca-
ble Systems for Power Transmission at a Rated Voltage up to 500 kV,”
as suggested for HVDC XLPE, may likely be valid. So far, we CIGRE Technical Brochure 496, Apr. 2012.
have not been able to confirm corrective measures, if used. [9] F. M. Precopio and A. R. Gilbert, “Peroxide cured polyethylene,” US Pat-
ent 3,079,370, 1955.
[10] T. Andrews, R. N. Hampton, A. Smedberg, D. Wald, V. Waschk, and W.
Conclusions Weissenberg, “The role of degassing in XLPE cable manufacture,” IEEE
• Both traditional XLPE and newer thermoplastic polymer Electr. Insul. Mag., vol. 22, no. 6, pp. 5–16, 2006.
technologies have been qualified in compliance with rec- [11] T. Takada, Y. Hayase, Y. Tanaka, and T. Okamoto, “Space charge trapping
ommended CIGRE or other industry testing recommenda- in electric potential wells caused by permanent and induced diploes for
LDPE/MgO nanocomposites,” IEEE Trans. Dielectr. Electr. Insul., vol. 15,
tions for use in transmission-level HVDC extruded polymer no. 1, pp. 152–160, 2008.
cables up to the 500 to 600-kV range. Commercial designs [12] S. Maruyama, N. Ishii, M. Shimada, S. Kojima, H. Tanaka, M. Asano, T.
are now offered by major cable manufacturers in Europe Yamanaka, and S. Kawakami, “Development of a 500 kV DC XLPE cable
and Japan. system,” Furukawa Rev., no. 25, pp. 47–52, 2004.
[13] Y. Murata, M. Sakamaki, K. Abe, Y. Inoue, S. Mashio, S. Kashiyama, O.
• While qualification procedures recommended by CIGRE Matsunaga, T. Igi, M. Watanabe, S. Asai, and S. Katakai, “Development of
and other organizations are claimed for these thermoset and high voltage DC XLPE cable system,” SEI Tech. Rev., no. 76, pp. 55–62,
thermoplastic classes by major cable manufacturers, we 2013.
have no details to share to date. [14] A. Gustafsson, M. Salzer, A. Farkas, H. Ghorbani, T. Quist, and M. Je-
roense, “The new 525 kV extruded HVDC cable system,” ABB Grid Sys-
• The writer was also unable to find published information tems Technical Paper, Aug. 2014.
on space charge behavior or mitigation on production-size [15] Siemens, High Voltage Direct Current Transmission. Erlangen, Germany:
transmission-class HVDC extruded cables; presumably, Siemens, Jul. 2012.
this inability, which may only be temporary, is due to the [16] Prysmian, “600kV HVDC XLPE Commercial Introduction,” Prysmian
Group press release (, Milan, Italy,
proprietary nature of such information. May 2016.
• From laboratory studies and tests on lower voltage cables [17] N. Yoshifuji, T. Niwa, T. Takahashi, and H. Miyata, “Development for the
and limited tests on higher voltage cables, on some of both new polymer insulating materials for HVDC cable,” IEEE Trans. Power
XLPE and thermoplastic candidate polymer formulations, a Del., no. 7, pp. 1053–1059, 2002.
[18] Y. Zhou, J. He, J. Hu, X. Huang, and P. Jiang, “Evaluation of polypro-
significant beneficial effect in suppressing space charge has pylene/polyolefin elastomer blends for potential recyclable HVDC cable
been achieved by the addition of relatively low concentra- insulation applications,” IEEE Trans. Dielectr. Electr. Insul., no. 22, pp.
tions of spherical nano-particles. Further work to confirm 673–681, 2015.
this finding is underway by different organizations. [19] C. Green, A. Vaughan, G. Stevens, A. Pye, S. Sutton, T. Gaussens, and M.
Fairhurst, “Thermoplastic cable insulation comprising a blend of isotactic
• Given the importance of the planned development of trans- polypropylene and a polypropylene-ethylene copolymer,” IEEE Trans. Di-
mission-class HVDC extruded polymer cables worldwide, electr. Electr. Insul., no. 22, pp. 639–648, 2015.
the completion of the IEEE Standard P1732 “A Recom- [20] B. Dang, J. He, J. Hu, and Y. Zhou, “Tailored sPP/silica nanocomposites
mended Practice for Space Charge Measurements in High for ecofriendly insulation of extruded HVDC cable,” J. Nanomaterials,
Article ID 686248, pp. 9–12, 2015.
Voltage Direct Current Extruded Cables for Rated Voltages [21] M. Albertini, A. Bareggi, L. Caimi, L. de Rai, A. Dumont, S. Franchi
up to 550 kV” is particularly timely. Bonomi, G. Pozzati, and P. Boffi, “Development and high temperature
qualification of innovative 320 kV DC cable with superior stable insulation
system,” presented at the 9th Int. Conf. Insul. Power Cables, paper A7.3,
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F. Mauseth, P. Morshuis, C. W. Reed, A. Tzimas, and K. Wu, “A protocol,
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[2] G. Chen, M. Hao, Z. Xu, A. Vaughan, J. Cao, and H. Wang, “Review of
high voltage direct current cables,” J. Power Energy Syst., vol. 1, no. 2, pp. Clive W. Reed received his first class BSc
9–21, 2015. and PhD degrees in physical chemistry at
[3] Working Group D1.23, “Diagnostics and Accelerated Life Endurance
Testing of Polymeric Materials for HVDC Application,” CIGRE Technical
the University of Bristol, England, fol-
Brochure 636, Nov. 2015. lowed by a postdoctoral fellowship in low
[4] D. Fabiani, G. Montanari, C. Laurent, G. Tessedre, P. Morshuis, R. Bo- temperature physics at the National Re-
dega, L. Dissado, A. Campus, and U. Neilson, “Polymeric HVDC cable search Council of Canada, Ottawa, Ontar-
design, and space charge accumulation. Part 1. Insulation/semicon inter-
face,” IEEE Electr. Insul. Mag., vol. 23, pp.11–19, 2007.
io. He worked at the GE Corporate Re-
[5] S. Delpino, D. Fabiani, C. Laurent, G. Teyssedre, P. Morshuis, R. Bodega, search and Development Center, in
and L. Dissado, “Polymeric HVDC cable design and space charge accu- Schenectady, New York, from 1963 until
mulation. Part 2. Insulation interfaces,” IEEE Electr. Insul. Mag., vol. 24, retirement in 2002. There he worked on a wide range of insula-
pp. 14–24, 2008.
[6] D. Fabiani, G. Montanari, C. Laurent, G. Teyssedre, P. Morshuis, R. Bode-
tion design and accelerated life performance and dielectric phe-
ga, and L. Dissado, “HVDC cable design and space charge accumulation. nomena R&D for GE’s generator, motor, transformer, aircraft
Part 3: Effect of temperature gradient,” IEEE Electr. Insul. Mag., vol. 24, engine, medical, aerospace, industrial, plastics, defense, nuclear,
pp. 5–14, 2008. and other businesses, both as an individual contributor and as a
[7] J. Mason, “Dielectric breakdown in solid insulation,” Fig. 13, in Progress
in Dielectrics, vol. 1, J. Birks, ed., 1959.
group and project manager. He also worked on projects for the

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US Department of Energy; the US Navy, Army, and Air Force; mittee on Dielectrics and chair of the Conference on Electrical
the Electric Power Research Institute; Consolidated Edison Insulation and Dielectric Phenomena, and editor of two major
Company; and other electric utilities. Professionally, he has industry reports), and the American Chemical Society. He is the
been active in the IEEE (member of the Administrative Commit- recipient of many awards from these organizations. Since 2002
tee and as chair of the Awards Committee of the Dielectrics and he has consulted in the defense and electrical equipment field.
Electrical Insulation Society), CIGRE (as international chair of
Study Committee D1 for six years), the US National Academy
of Sciences–National Research Council (as member of the Com-

26 IEEE Electrical Insulation Magazine