Electrical breakdown in transformer oil

Michael D. Cevallos, James C. Dickens, Andreas A. Neuber, Hermann G. Krompholz

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


The fundamental breakdown physics of transformer oils is investigated with high-speed electrical and optical diagnostics with temporal resolution down to 500 ps. Univolt 63 and Envirotemp FR3 (biodegradable) are used for this study. The system set up employs a cable discharge into a coaxial system with point/plane axial discharge and load line to providing a matched terminating impedance. Overall, the impedance of the system is matched at 50 ohms throughout with the exception of the very narrow gap region and includes a 50 ohm load resistor terminating the load line. Self breakdown is achieved by applying up to 50 W to the charging line. Pulsed breakdown is achieved by charging a pulse forming line with a two way transient time of 300ns, up to 100 KV. The pulse forming line is then fed into the discharge line via an oil spark gap. Transmission line type current sensors and a capacitive voltage divider with fast amplifiers/attenuators are used in order to attain a complete range of information from amplitudes of 0.1 mA to 1kA with temporal resolutions of 300 ps. Optical measurements are performed on low level light emission using fast photo-multiplier tubes (risetime of 800 ps) spatially resolved, supplemented with high speed and spectroscopic investigations on a nanosecond timescale. Breakdown voltages at gap distances of 5 mm for pre, self, and pulsed breakdown voltages are given, where break-down with negative needle tips show 20 % higher breakdown voltages than the ones with positive needle. Velocities of propagating "tree"-structures for the pre and self-breakdown are a few km/s while pulsed breakdown velocities are several 10's of km/s, with higher velocities for a negative needle. The trees have to reach the opposite electrode before full breakdown occurs. Simultaneous optical measurements for a single breakdown event are presented, such as the luminosity in comparison to shadowgraphy images, which is necessary to describe the complex interaction of hydrodynamic phenomena (channel and tree formation and propagation) and charge carrier multiplication.

Original languageEnglish
Article number6P45
Pages (from-to)401
Number of pages1
JournalIEEE International Conference on Plasma Science
StatePublished - 2004
EventIEEE Conference Record - Abstracts: The 31st IEEE International Conference on Plasma Science, ICOPS2004 - Baltimore, MD, United States
Duration: Jun 28 2004Jul 1 2004


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