Creeping sparks


Research Summary
Sparks are generated by high voltages, in nature and in technology. High voltage devices therefore use a lot of solid insulation, but detrimental breakdown still can occur. Frequently, the discharge does not grow through free air, even if this path is the shortest, but it creeps along the surface between insulator and surrounding gas where it apparently can propagate easier and further. Control and prevention is usually based on empirical design rules or on oversimplified engineering models, or even on trial and error, as the underlying physics is poorly understood.
But experimental and theoretical methods are now ripe to analyze these creeping sparks as a fundamental physics problem. We will investigate their three stages of evolution: I. How and where does the discharge start without electrode contact? II. How do discharge channels grow over the solid-gas interface or through the gas? III. When do they heat up and create an electric short-circuit?
The applicants have built up vital expertise on discharges in air; here they will analyze how these discharges interact with solid insulator surfaces. Three different physical mechanisms can be at work: The surface can modify the local electric field, it can store electric charges, and it can release electrons. We will quantify these microscopic mechanisms with new experimental diagnostics and elucidate their respective role, we will characterize the macroscopic discharge evolution, and we will implement the microscopic mechanisms into time-dependent simulations in full three dimensions and compare them with experimental results. This will lead to quantitative understanding and to design tools predicting how surface break-down depends on materials, geometries and applied voltage. Three strong complementary partners will collaborate towards this goal: electrical engineering and applied plasma physics at TU Eindhoven and plasma theory at CWI Amsterdam.

Utilization Summary
Our modern society depends on an efficient and reliable high voltage infrastructure for generation, transmission and distribution of electric energy. The decentralized power generation through renewable energy sources demands a new structure for our power grid; and novel technology for high voltage direct current (dc) transmission and distribution is currently being developed. The most critical cause of failure of all high voltage technology is surface flashover. These ?creeping sparks? on insulation materials are the limiting factor on optimizing efficiency, reliability and size of high voltage devices.
Existing design rules on surface flashover are based on long experience, but not on deep scientific understanding. This understanding will be developed within the present project. Parameters of microscopic mechanisms will be measured and incorporated into validated theoretical models on the macroscopic level. The macroscopic behavior on very short times will be characterized experimentally, and new design rules will be developed.
ABB is a world leading developer and manufacturer of high voltage technology and has a major interest in this research. Therefore they will pay a PhD student within the present project, if it is granted. KEMA as a consultant and tester of high voltage devices is interested in the same subject; Philips Lighting is interested as well, because flashover in outer bulbs and lamp sockets limits the development of HID (high intensity discharge) lamps for outdoor, shop and automotive lighting. Vabrema also has to avoid surface flashover when developing high voltage equipment for stimulating the growth of biological tissue like human skin cells. Finally, NEQLab Research does not avoid surface discharges, but uses them when developing plasma actuators for aerodynamic applications, e.g., in aviation and for wind mills.


Wetenschappelijk artikel

  • S. Nijdam, E. Takahashi, A. Markosyan, U.M. Ebert(2013): Investigation of positive streamers by double pulse experiments, effects of repetition rate and gas mixture Plasma Sources Sci. T. ISSN: 0963-0252.
  • T. Clevis, S. Nijdam, U.M. Ebert(2013): Inception and propagation of positive streamers in high-purity nitrogen : effects of the voltage rise rate J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. ISSN: 0022-3727.
  • E.A.D. Carbone, S. Nijdam(2013): Ultra-fast pulsed microwave plasma breakdown: evidence of various ignition modes Plasma Sources Sci. T. ISSN: 0963-0252.
  • L. Heijmans, S. Nijdam, E.M. van Veldhuizen, U.M. Ebert(2013): Inception and propagation of positive streamers in high-purity nitrogen : effects of the voltage rise rate Europhysics Letters ISSN: 0295-5075.
  • A.A. Dubinova, J. Teunissen, U.M. Ebert(2014): Propagation of a Positive Streamer Toward a Dielectric Tip in Pure Nitrogen and in Air Under Voltage Pulses With Subnanosecond Rise Time IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science and Technology pp. 2392 - 2393 ISSN: 0093-3813.
  • D.J.M. Trienekens, S. Nijdam, U.M. Ebert(2014): Stroboscopic images of streamers through air and over dielectric surfaces IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science and Technology pp. 2400 - 2401 ISSN: 0093-3813.
  • I. Belysheva, A.V. Chvyreva, I. Mursenkova(2014): Experimental research of sliding surface distributed nanosecond discharge in supersonic air flow Journal of Physics: Conference Series pp. 12021 ISSN: 1742-6596.
  • A.V. Chvyreva, A.J.M. Pemen(2014): Experimental investigation of electron emission from dielectric surfaces due to primary electron beam : a review IEEE Transactions on Dielectrics and Electrical Insulation pp. 2274 - 2282 ISSN: 1070-9878.
  • S. Nijdam(2015): Optimizing drive parameters of a nanosecond, repetitively pulsed microdischarge high power 121.6 nm source Plasma Sources Science and Technology pp. 1 - 17
  • U.M. Ebert, A. Dubinova, C. Rutjes(2015): Prediction of lightning inception by large ice particles and extensive air showers Physical review letters pp. 1 - 5 ISSN: 0031-9007.
  • A. Fierro, J. Stephens, A. Neuber, D. Trienekens, J. Dickens(2016): Time-discretized extreme and vacuum ultraviolet spectroscopy of spark discharges in air, N2 and O2 Journal of Physics D. Applied Physics pp. 03520 - 03520





Prof. dr. U.M. Ebert

Verbonden aan

Centrum Wiskunde & Informatica


Dr. A.V. Chvyreva MSc, Dr. A.A. Dubinova PhD, Dr. A. Sun, Dr. D.J.M. Trienekens


15/01/2012 tot 01/10/2016


€ 948.859