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Electrical treeing

Within the field of electrical engineering, treeing is a process whereby branching channels, or chains of small fractures, are created within, or on the surface of, a solid dielectric material as a result of cumulative partial discharges.

Occurrence and causes

Treeing occurs when a dielectric material is subjected to excessive high voltage stress over a long period of time. Treeing is observed to originate at points where impurities, gas voids, mechanical defects, or conducting projections cause excessive electrical field stress within small regions of the dielectric. This can ionize gases within voids inside the bulk dielectric, creating small electrical discharges between the walls of the void. An impurity or defect may even result in the partial breakdown of the solid dielectric itself. Ultraviolet light and ozone from these partial discharges (PD) then react with the nearby dielectric, decomposing and further degrading its insulating capability. Gases are often liberated as the dielectric degrades, creating new voids and cracks. These defects further weaken the dielectric strength of the material, enhance the electrical stress, and accelerate the PD process.

Over time, a partially conductive, branching 3D tree-like figure is formed within the dielectric. The tree can grow to the point that it eventually causes complete electrical failure of the dielectric. This has been a long-term failure mechanism for buried polymer-insulated high voltage power cables. In a similar fashion, 2D trees can occur along the surface of a highly stressed dielectric, or across a dielectric surface that has been contaminated by dust or mineral salts. Over time, these partially conductive trails can grow until they cause complete failure of the dielectric. Electrical tracking, sometimes called dry banding, is a typical failure mechanism for electrical power insulators that are subjected to salt spray contamination along coastlines. The branching 2D and 3D patterns are sometimes called Lichtenberg figures.

Following are some examples of 2D and 3D electrical trees:


Technical Occurance

Electrical treeing or "Lichtenberg figures" also occur in High-voltage equipment just before breakdown. Following these Lichtenberg figures in the insulation during post-mortem investigation of the broken down insulation can be most useful in finding the cause of breakdown. An experienced High-voltage engineer can see from the direction and the type of trees and their branches where the primary cause of the breakdown was situated and possibly find the cause. Broken-down transformers, High-voltage cables, bushings and other equipment can usefully be investigated in this way; the insulation is unrolled (in the case of paper insulation) or sliced in thin slices (in the case of solid insulations), the results are sketched and photographed and form a useful archive of the breakdown proces.

See also

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Electrical_treeing". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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