Skip to Main Content
The mechanisms and predictors of insulator degradation and erosion by pulsed high-current surface discharges are presented and discussed. Erosion and degradation depend on the insulator material, the electrode material, the ambient gas, and the presence of UV stabilizers in, or on the surface of, the insulator. Insulator degradation is the result of material decomposition into conductive metal or carbon species and is measured by a decrease in the surface breakdown voltage. Insulator erosion is measured by the material's mass loss. The performance of a large group of ceramic, polymeric, and elastomeric materials tested with graphite and molybdenum electrodes is presented in this investigation. The insulators are exposed to repetitive 300-kA 20-mus-long surface discharges. Tests are performed in atmospheric air and pure nitrogen. Various methods to rank insulators in terms of holdoff voltage degradation, mass erosion, and holdoff voltage conditioning (HVC) using the material's thermochemical properties are presented and discussed. HVC is characterized by an initial increase in surface holdoff voltage. The ranking method developed by the authors characterizes the insulator according to the holdoff degradation resistance (HDR), mass vaporization coefficient (MVC), and HVC figures of merit calculated by the material's thermochemical properties. The investigation also shows the relationship between the HDR, MVC, and HVC figures of merit.