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104

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTRICAL INSULATION, VOL.

Ei-4,

NO. 4, DECEMBER

1969

The Effect of Gas-Cell Diameter on


Dielectric Strength Determination
L. C. WHITMAN,

FELLOW, IEEE, AND

T. J. LANOUE

Abstract-The electric breakdown of air and nitrogen was determined in test cell diameters of 2, 4, and 6 inches using electrode
systems of a one-inch-diameter brass sphere to 1 4-inch-diameter
square-edged brass plane and also using a sharp-pointed tungsten
electrode to the same size brass plane. Also, these electrode systems
were used in free ambient air with no enclosing cell. The electrode
spacings used were from 100 to 2000 mils. Field plots of electric
flux and equipotential lines were also made using conducting paper
and copper-foil electrodes for these cell diameters and electrode
systems.

INTRODUCTION

HE PRESENTLY proposed ASTM (American


Society for Testing Materials) gas test cell (Fig.
1) has been quite widely used for a number of years
by various laboratories and has been considered satisfactory. In general, this cell has been used with sphere-toplane electrodes although some work has been done with
this cell with point-to-plane electrodes [1], [2]. Some preliminary work was also done with other cells with a
variety of electrode configurations [3]. Usually the electrode spacings were small, an example being the roundrobin tests of 1961 [4], where the spacings were 0.1 inch
for both N2 and SF<;, using rapidly applied 60-Hz voltage
(500 volts per second).
Aside from comparison of gases at a standard spacing,
say 0.1 inch, it would be desirable to obtain data at somewhat greater spacings as an aid to preliminary design of
equipment. The question then arises, how large a spacing
of electrodes can be reliably used in the ASTM test cell?
One limitation would obviously be the arc-over between external parts. However, long before this occurs,
the question of distortion of the field by the proximity of
the enclosing Pyrex glass wall should be considered, as
well as the gas volume of the cell and the frequency of
gas change. These effects are the subject of the present
paper.

EQUIPMENT
Gas Test Cells
In addition to the ASTM test cell, which utilizes a 2inch inside-diameter Pyrex cylinder 8 inches long, two
other cells were constructed using the same general design. These had Pyrex cylinders of 4 and 6 inches inside
Paper 69 Cp 90-PWR, recommended and approved by the Electrical Insulation Group of the IEEE Power Group for presentation at the IEEE Winter Power Meeting, New York, N. Y., January 26-31, 1969. Manuscript received November 14, 1968.
L. C. Whitman is with the Department of Electrical Engineering, South Dakota State University, Brookings, S. D.
T. J. Lanoue is presently a 2nd Lieutenant in the U. S. Army.

Fig. 1. Gas test cell.

Fig. 2. The 6-inch-diameter, 4-inch-diameter, and 2-inch-diameter


test cells from left to right.

diameter and in both cases 8 inches long. These are shown


in Fig. 2. In addition, provision was made for a cell of
infinite-glass diameter (no Pyrex cylinder) utilizing the
same electrodes and both with and without clamping
rings. Also, setups were made with the enclosing Pyrex
cylinders open at each end to free air to show the effects,
if any, of the contamination due to arcing of the air. A
fan was used near the setup of the open-ended cells and
the infinite-glass diameter cell to circulate the air before
each application of voltage and turned off approximately
20 seconds before voltage was applied.

105

WHITMAN AND LANOUE: GAS-CELL DIAMETER AND DIELECTRIC STRENGTH

Cl)

a 30

~30
Z

20
2

,ffiY/i

--o

2' Dia Test

Cell

4" Dia Test

Cell

6" Dia Test

Cell

Open

Cell

o-2" Dia Test Cell


D-4" Dia Test Cell
/0-6" Dia Test Cell

10

8 Cf

C0 0.2 04
v OQ2 04 0.6

0.8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6 1.8 2.0


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

Fig. 3. Rapidly applied 60-Hz breakdown voltage (500 V/s) for


open air with 1-inch sphere-to-plane electrode system.

The electrodes used were a 1-inch-diameter brass


sphere to a 14-inch-diameter brass grounded plane and
also a h33-inch-diameter tungsten electrode with a sharp
point to the same brass-grounded plane.

Voltage Sources
A standard 60-Hz test set rated 75 000 volts was used
with voltage application at 500 volts per second in accordance with ASTM Standard D-149-64. Voltage applied to the test cell was measured by a high-impedance
meter connected to an internal voltage coil, which was an
integral part of the test transformer.
An impulse-voltage source rated 125 000 volts was used
with a wave-shaping network, which produced the standard 1- x 40-,/s impulse wave. This wave shape was determined by measurement on a photograph of the wave as
displayed on an oscilloscope. Some details of this equipment are given in a previous paper [1]. The impulse
voltage applied to the test cell was measured by a voltagedivider circuit, which provided an oscillograph deflection
and also by a microammeter in conjunction with a resistance network and the impulse generator capacitors.
Radiation Source
In tests using an impulse wave, an irradiation source
was used, consisting of a millicurie of radium at a distance of 18 inches and passing through 1.37 inches of lead,
to help prevent erratic breakdowns of the gas.

Test Cell Filling


Before each series of tests the electrodes used were
cleaned with emery cloth (fineness 1 to 3/0) and polished
with a rouge wheel. The electrodes and all parts were
washed with laboratory glass cleaner and water followed
by distilled water and chemically pure acetone. The test
cell was then evacuated and filled with the gas in question. In the case of nitrogen gas it was passed through

0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6 1.8 2.0


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

Fig. 4. Rapidly applied 60-Hz breakdown voltage (500 V/s) for


dry air with 1-inch sphere-to-plane electrode system changing
air after every breakdown. Standard conditions: 28.35 inches
of Hg and 800F.

KOH pellets to remove moisture. The cell was then reevacuated and refilled. By use of leveler tubes [2], filled
with silicone oil, the pressure of the gas was adjusted to
give the condition that would exist at 80F and 28.35
inches of mercury (the average conditions at the location
of these tests). In some of the tests, ambient air of a relative humidity of 50 to 65 percent and of pressure of 27.93
to 28.68 inches of mercury was used and replaced between each voltage application by a vacuum pump.
60-Hz TESTS WITH AIR AS THE DIELECTRIC GAS

Test Conditions and Results Utilizing 1-Inch-Diameter


Sphere and 1 3-Inch-Diameter Plane Electrodes
a) Tests with air circulated through Pyrex cylinders of
2- , 4- , and 6-inch infinite diameter. Test results in Fig. 3.
b) Tests in closed test cells of 2- , 4- , and 6-inch diameter changing air after each breakdown. Test results in
Fig. 4.
c) Like b) except change of air only after each 10
breakdowns. Test results in Fig. 5.
These show consistent results for a) and b) with the
breakdowns being lower for the smaller diameter closed
cell. For case c) the data for the 2-inch-diameter test cell
fall between the 4- and 6-inch-diameter cell indicating
that there is a contamination due to smaller gas volume.
Test Conditions and Results Utilizing 33-Inch-Diameter
Tungsten Rod With Sharp Point and 13-Inch-Diameter
Plane Electrodes
Tests were made in closed test cells 2, 4, and 6 inches
in diameter changing air after each breakdown (and also
in an infinite diameter cell) with ambient air in all cases.
The test results in Fig. 6 show little correlation. These results and particularly the high results of the 2-inch-diameter cell were checked to be sure that there was not an
experimental error.

106

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTRICAL INSULATION, DECEMBER 1969

40

E30 H-

Uj)

2 3C

z
I-

2" Dia Test Cell


4"' Dia Test Cell
6" Dia Test Cell

---a
-A

-o

,i

20

----

2" Dia Test Cell

--a

4" Dia Test Cell

-o

6" Dia Test Cell

0 1lC

01ct

10

in

02 04 06 0.8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6 1.8


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

02 04 0.6 Q8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6 1.8 2.0


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

Fig. 5. Rapidly applied 60-Hz breakdown voltage (500 V/s) for


dry air with 1-inch sphere-to-plane electrode system; air changed
only between test points. Standard conditions: 28.35 inches of
Hg and 800F.

Fig. S. Positive-polarity breakdown voltage with 12 X 40 jus impulse wave for dry air with point-to-plane electrode system; air

changed only between test points. Standard conditions: 28.35


inches of Hg and 80F.
MEDIUM I

40

Q.

(a
n

2.0

MEDIUM 2

30

K?
>2

a4.4

6'

cc

20

PERMITTIVITY. a-

CONDUCTIVITY

Fig. 9. Change in direction of field line across a boundary.

o- 2" Dia Test Cell

01

-4'

----

Dia Test

Cell

---a-6" Dia Test Cell

ct

CD

-v

(I

Open Cell

.- -I

0 02 0.4 0.6 Q8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6 1.8 2.0


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

Fig. 6. Rapidly applied 60-Hz breakdown voltage (500 V/s) with


point-to-plane electrode system changing air after every breakdown. Ambient air used.
60
50F
co

>

40

-o

O 3C

-A

-v

20

2" Dia Test Cell


4' DiaTesf Cell
6" Dia Test Cell
Open Cell

0
0

w
cc

10

ca
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-.-

-.-

.-

.-

-.

.-

I-

.-

02 04 0.6 0.8 1.0 1.2 14 1.6


GAP SPACING IN INCHES

.'- --7-4--

1.8 2.0

Fig. 7. Positive-polarity breakdown voltage with 1 X 40 its impulse wave for open air with 1-inch sphere-to-plane electrode
system.

60-Hz TESTS WITH N2 AS A DIELECTRIC GAS

Test Conditions and Results Utilizing 1-Inch-Diameter


Sphere and 13-Inch-Diameter Plane Electrodes
Tests were made in closed test cells of 2- , 4- , and 6inch diameters with change of gas after each 10 breakdowns. Test results below one-inch electrode spacing
showed little variation, but from 1- to 2-inch spacings
the results were consistent with those of air with change
of air after ten breakdowns. In other words, the 2-inchdiameter cell results again fell between the 4- and 6inch-diameter results, indicating contamination due to
repeated arcing.
IMPULSE TESTS WITH AIR AS A DIELECTRIC GAS
In this case there were no consistent trends relating
breakdown to diameter of test cell with either the 1-inch
sphere-to-plane electrodes (Fig. 7) or point-to-plane
electrodes (Fig. 8). However, it should be noted that the
1-inch sphere-to-plane electrode system for the 6-inchdiameter test cell did give consistently higher values.
In all the impulse tests an averaging technique was
used to obtain the 50 percent breakdown voltage with the
resulting plotted point being the average of about 50
breakdowns. The averaging technique used was similar to
that covered in [2] except two cycles rather than four
were used.

WHITMAN AND LANOUE: GAS-CELL DIAMETER AND DIELECTRIC STRENGTH

107

cylimler.

Fig. 12. Four-inch-diameter test cell without the Pyrex cylinder.

Fig. 10. Two-inch-diameter test cell without the Pyrex

Fig. 11. Two-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

ANALOG PLOTTING

OF

TE>T CELLS

Since there appears to be an effect of ted-cell size on


electric breakdown, the configuration of the electric field
was investigated by flux plots. Double-scale size electrodes of 0.002-inch-thick copper foil were cut out together with clamping structure and mounted on electrical
conductingr paper with conducting rubber paint. The Pyrex cylinder was represented by a mixture of conducting
rubber paint and xylol, sueh that its conductivity was five

Fig. 13. Four-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

times greater thani the uncoated paper, when one coat was
applied. This compensated for the dielectric constant of
the Pyrex.
A 20-volt dc supply was connected to the copper-foil
electrodes and the equipotential lines then plotted using
a vacuum tube voltmeter. This was done for both electrode systems, the 2- , 4- , and 6-inch cell configurations
both with and without the Pyrex cylinders, and also for
the open cell (no Pyrex cylinder or clamps, oc diameter
cell).

108

IEEE

TRANSACTIONS

ON ELECTRICAL

INSULATION,

DECEMBER

1969

Fig. 14. Six-inch-diameter test cell without the Pyrex cylinder.

Fig. 16. Two-ineh-diameter test cell witlhouit the Pvrex cylinder.

Fig. 15. Six-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

The procedure for finding the flux lincs for the cells
with the glass was different than without the glass. To
obtain the flux lines for the test cells without the glass,
the copper-foil electrodes and the conducting paper underneath were cut out and a new electrode system attached
to the paper. The conducting paper now had void areas
where the original electrodes were positioned. A narrow
slot was then cut in the conducting paper between the
point electrode or the 1-inch sphere electrode, depending
on which electrode configuration was being used, to the
plane electrode. Then a narrow strip of cop))er foil was
attached by conducting rubber paint to each side of the
narrow slit. These new electrodes were called current electrodes since the equipotential lines plotted for these new
electrodes were the current lines, or flux lines, of the original electrodes. This method of flux-line plotting was similar to that covered in some detail in [5]. The flux lines
were then determined by de supply and voltmncter as be-

Fig. 17. Two-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

fore. This method only applied, however, to field plots in


a single mediumn.
The flux lines for the test cells with Pyrex cylinders
were drawn freehand by the method of curvilinear
squares because of the failure of the above metho(d to
apply to a double mnedium. The following equation was
used to determine the angle the flux lines were refracted
when crossing the boundary of the two differenit inediums:
tan a1 - El
tan a2 e2

(1)

See Fig. 9 for explanation of nomenclature.


Figs. 10-15 show field plots with sphere-to-plane elec-

WHITMAN AND LANOUE: GAS-CELL DIAMETER AND DIELECTRIC STRENGTH1

Fig. 18. Four-inch-diameter test cell without the Pyrex cylinder.

109

Fig. 20. Six-inch-diameter test cell without the Pyrex cylinder.

Fig. 21. Six-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

Fig. 19. Four-inch-diameter test cell with the Pyrex cylinder.

trodes and different diameter cells. Figs. 16-21 show field


plots with point-to-plane electrodes and different diameter cells. Figs. 22 and 23 show field plots with electrodes
withlout enclosing cylinder or clamps.
These plots show that the fields were quite definitely
distorted by the cylinder proximity and as would be expected, less distorted as cylinder diameters increase.

SUMMARY
1) The present standard 2-inch-diameter test cell [1]
satisfactory breakdown data for gap spacings below
inch for electrode systems of both nearly uniform fields

gave
1

and highly nonuniform fields for botlh 60-Hz and impulse


voltages of 1.1 to 40 As wave shape.
2) For gap spacings over 1 inch with 1-inch-sphere to
14-inch-diameter plane electrodes the present 2-inchdiameter gas test cell gave breakdowns too low for 60 Hz.
3) A 6-inch-diameter gas test cell gave breakdowns
essentially the same as for an infinite cell diameter up to
2-inch gap spacings with 1-inch-sphere to 13-inch-diameter plane electrodes and 60-Hz voltage.
4) A 6-inch-diameter gas test cell would appear proper
for breakdown tests for spacings of 1 inch to 2 inches in
the case of point-to-plane electrodes.
5) Change of gas after each breakdown changed the
breakdown values obtained in the 2-inch-diameter cell
for gap spacings over 1 inch.
6) The cell diameter appeare(i to have no consistent

110

Fig. 22. Field plot of open cell with point-to-plane electrodes.

effect on breakdown when impulse voltages were used irrespective of electrode system used.
7) Flux plots showed considerable effect of the proximity of the enclosing Pyrex cylinders.
REFERENCES
[1] L. C. Whitman, "Impulse voltage tests on air and C. and F8,"
IEEE Trans. Electrical Insulation, vol. EI-1, pp. 44-48, November 1965.

IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON ELECTRICAL INSULATION, DECEMBER

1969

Fig. 23. Field plot of open cell with 1-inch-diameter sphere-toplane electrodes.

[2] K. E. Crouch and L. C. Whitman, "The effect of wave shape

on the electric breakdown of nitrogen gas," IEEE Trans.


Electrical Insulation, vol. EI-2, pp. 114-120, August 1967.
[3] M. L. Manning, "Experience with the AIEE subcommittee
test cell for gaseous insulation," AIEE Trans., vol. 78, pt. 3A,
pp. 800-807, 1959.
[4] "Symposium on electrical insulating gases," ASTM Spec.
Tech. Publ., no. 346, Alpha, N. J., pp. 67-85, December 1963.
15] "Instructions for analog field plotter," Inst. Manual IM24-1, Scientific Instruments, Philadelphia, Pa.