Effect of applied field and rate of voltage rise on surface breakdown of oil-immersed polymers

Mark P. Wilson, Igor V. Timoshkin, Martin J. Given, Scott J. MacGregor, Mark A. Sinclair, Ken J. Thomas, Jane M. Lehr

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In sub-systems of high-voltage, pulsed-power machines, the introduction of a solid into bulk liquid insulation located between two conductors is often necessary to provide mechanical support. Breakdown events on or around the surface of the solid can result in permanent damage to the insulation system. Described in the present paper are experimental results pertaining to surface breakdown of five different solid dielectrics held between plane-parallel electrodes immersed in mineral oil. The effect of varying level of peak applied field from 200 kV/cm (dV/dt 70 kV/µs) to 1 MV/cm (dV/dt 350 kV/µs) is investigated, and the breakdown voltages and times to breakdown are compared to those for an open oil gap. The time to breakdown is shown to be reduced by the introduction of a solid spacer into the gap. Rexolite and Torlon samples suffered significant mechanical damage, and consistently showed lower breakdown voltage than the other materials - average streamer propagation velocity up to 125 km/s was implied by the short times to breakdown. Although ultra-high molecular weight polyethylene yielded the longest times to breakdown of the five types of liquid-solid gap, breakdown events could be initiated at lower levels of applied field for spacers of this material than those with permittivity closely matched to that of the surrounding mineral oil. Polypropylene and low-density polyethylene are concluded to provide the most stable performance in mineral oil. Due to the similarity of the applied voltage wave-shape (1/6.5 µs) to short-tail lightning impulses, the results may also be of interest to high-voltage system designers in the power industry.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1003-1010
Number of pages8
JournalIEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2011


  • dielectric breakdown
  • flashover
  • oil insulation
  • plastic insulation
  • pulse power systems
  • solids


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