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Dokumentenidentifikation EP1556874 10.05.2007
EP-Veröffentlichungsnummer 0001556874
Titel UNTERBRECHERSCHALTER
Anmelder The University of Liverpool, Liverpool, GB
Erfinder TELFER, Duncan John, Southport PR8 3LH, GB;
JONES, Gordon Rees, Wirral CH60 1JE, GB;
HUMPHRIES, James Edward, Liverpool L12 0PF, GB;
SPENCER, Joseph William, Liverpool L31 4HF, GB
Vertreter derzeit kein Vertreter bestellt
DE-Aktenzeichen 60312882
Vertragsstaaten AT, BE, BG, CH, CY, CZ, DE, DK, EE, ES, FI, FR, GB, GR, HU, IE, IT, LI, LU, MC, NL, PT, RO, SE, SI, SK, TR
Sprache des Dokument EN
EP-Anmeldetag 28.10.2003
EP-Aktenzeichen 037696531
WO-Anmeldetag 28.10.2003
PCT-Aktenzeichen PCT/GB03/04617
WO-Veröffentlichungsnummer 2004040610
WO-Veröffentlichungsdatum 13.05.2004
EP-Offenlegungsdatum 27.07.2005
EP date of grant 28.03.2007
Veröffentlichungstag im Patentblatt 10.05.2007
IPC-Hauptklasse H01H 33/78(2006.01)A, F, I, 20051017, B, H, EP

Beschreibung[en]

The present invention relates to circuit breakers.

Circuit breakers typically utilise a pair of electrical contacts, maintained normally in contact with each other, through which an electrical contact is made. In order to break the circuit, eg. upon detection of a fault condition, one contact is moved relative to the other to separate the two contacts. As the contacts are moved apart, due to the potential gradient between them, an electrical arc is created. Where high voltages are involved it is necessary to arrange for this arc to be extinguished in order to prevent excessive damage to the circuit breaker and other attendant hazards.

It is well known, in order to extinguish the arc, to place the contacts in a sealed vessel filled with a background gas consisting of sulphur hexafluoride (SF6) at high pressure (typically in the region of 600kPa (six atmospheres)). The gas is chosen for its dielectric properties, enhanced by its pressurisation, by virtue of which arcing is reduced. Such circuit breakers are in use in, for example, the substations and switching stations used in commercial electricity supply networks.

In some examples, the effect of the gas is further enhanced by arranging, through a "puffer" arrangement of a piston coupled to the circuit breaker's movable electrode, that as the electrodes are separated a flow of gas passes over them. US Patent No. 4339641 (General Electric Corporation) discloses such an arrangement.

The same document illustrates the provision of a shield or nozzle around the electrodes, formed of dielectric material, by means of which the arc is to some degree confined. The design of this component is intended among other objects to maximise gas pressure for arc extraction and minimise ablation of the nozzle material.

Sulphur hexafluoride is recognised as a highly potent greenhouse gas (several orders of magnitude more potent than carbon dioxide) and there are consequently both official recommendations and important commercial incentives to dispense with it. One approach which is the subject of currently active research is to seek a substitute dielectric gas. Such research has been based on the use of elevated pressure, as in the known circuit breakers using sulphur hexafluoride. An option known in the literature is to use a proportion of sulphur hexafluoride in combination with some other less harmful gas, but clearly the goal of dispensing with SF6 is not thereby achieved.

High voltage circuit breakers are known which do not utilize a dielectric gas for arc extinction but instead have electrodes in an evacuated housing. However in such devices the electrical arc typically generates temperatures sufficient to cause an undesirable degree of ablation of the electrodes themselves, reducing the electrode's working lifetime.

An example of a circuit breaker which operates at low pressure is provided by UK patent application 2087651 (Westinghouse Electric Corporation et al). It appears that this is a device having low current density at the contacts and the low gas pressure serves "to minimise contact erosion". Annular shields around the perimeters of the contacts serve to intercept hot, eroded material.

US Patent 2167665, assigned to the Detroit Edison Company, describes a circuit breaker in which horn fibre or other organic matter is placed adjacent the arc that is decomposed. It also describes an arrangement in which movement of a rod extension, upon opening of the contacts, tends to create decreased pressure which operates to draw the arc through a space between the rod extension and a fibre tube, helping to confine the arc within an arcing space.

In experiments, the inventors have unexpectedly observed that arc extinction can be enhanced when the pressure of background gas is reduced below atmospheric pressure.

In accordance with a first aspect of the present invention there is a circuit breaker comprising first and second electrodes which are contactable with each other to complete an electrical circuit, a withdrawal mechanism for moving one electrode away from the other to break the circuit, and a shield arranged in proximity to the electrodes such as to be subject to ablation by the aforementioned arc, the material and arrangement of the shield being such that its ablation by the arc causes it to release arc-extinguishing gas, the device further comprising means for providing, at least in the vicinity of the electrodes and at the instant of striking of an arc between them during breaking of the circuit, a gas pressure below 101325 Pascals, and being characterised by provision of a sealed enclosure containing the electrode and the shield, the enclosure containing a background gas.

For the avoidance of doubt, atmospheric pressure in this context is 101325Pa.

It is found by experiment that an effective circuit breaker can be constructed in accordance with the present invention despite, and in fact by virtue of, the low gas pressure utilized. This is contrary to expectation.

The shield may form a cavity within which the arcing takes place. In this way the desired ablation and also the arc extinguishing effect of the gas can be increased. Pressure within the cavity may be transiently increased by the effects of the arc, further improving arc extinction.

Preferably the shield comprises electrically insulating material.

Sub-atmospheric pressure in the vicinity of the electrodes may be provided by providing a suitable gas pressure in the enclosure.

The background gas need not comprise a dielectric gas such as SF6. Currently the favoured gas is nitrogen. Argon, carbon dioxide and air are potential alternatives.

It is preferred that the background gas pressure inside the enclosure is 60 kPa or below. 34 kPa (5psi) is believed to be still more favourable. It is currently believed that a pressure above 7 kPa (1psi) is desirable although the effect of pressures below 7 kPa (1 psi) have to date not been thoroughly studied.

An alternative, or additional, means for providing the required pressure in the vicinity of the electrodes comprises means for withdrawing gas from this vicinity during the .process of breaking the electrical circuit. Pressure is thus transiently reduced in this vicinity. A piston/cylinder arrangement may be used to withdraw the gas.

A specific embodiment of the present invention will now be described, by way of example only, with reference to the accompanying drawings, in which:-

  • Fig. 1 is a somewhat simplified section, in an axial plane, through an embodiment of the present invention;
  • Fig. 2 is a simplified section through the same embodiment in a radial plane;
  • Fig. 3 is a graph of experimental data, showing the critical electrode gap (vertical axis) against gas pressure (horizontal axis) for several different background gases used in a circuit breaker:
  • Fig. 4 is a graph of experimental data, showing critical electrode gap (vertical axis) against peak alternating current (horizontal axis) in a circuit breaker embodying the present invention and using several different background gases; and
  • Fig. 5 is a graph of experimental data showing the magnitudes of extinction and re-ignition voltage peaks for different gases, for a gas pressure of 25 kPa (3.7 psi) and peak alternating currents of 20 kA.

As illustrated in Figs. 1 and 2, a circuit breaker embodying the present invention comprises a tubular static electrode 2 coaxially mounted with a cylindrical movable electrode 4. The movable electrode 4 is a sliding fit in the fixed electrode 2. Fig. 1 shows the movable electrode to be withdrawn from the fixed electrode, in order to break an associated electrical circuit indicated, purely schematically, at 6. However when (as under normal operating conditions) the circuit breaker is closed, the movable electrode contacts the fixed electrode to complete the circuit 6. More specifically, in the present embodiment, an end portion of the movable electrode 4 is received in and contacted by the fixed electrode 2.

The movable electrode 4 is coupled to a withdrawal mechanism which is schematically indicated at 8. Suitable mechanisms are well known in the art, their function being to rapidly withdraw the movable electrode 4 along the direction of the electrode axis, and will not be described in detail herein beyond noting that a standard type of hydraulic actuator may be used, and that pneumatic or solenoid actuated devices are possible alternatives.

The electrodes are contained in an enclosure 12, formed in the present embodiment as a metal tube. The enclosure serves to maintain around the electrodes a background gas, introduced prior to use of the circuit breaker, whose nature and purpose will be considered below. The withdrawal mechanism 8 is in this embodiment disposed outside the enclosure 12, the movable electrode 4 emerging from the enclosure through a sealing gland 14 (whereby passage of gas in this region is prevented) to reach the withdrawal mechanism 8.

Also disposed within the enclosure 12, and in the vicinity of the electrodes 2, 4, is an insulating shield 16. In the present embodiment the shield is an annular body into whose interior the movable electrode 4 extends. When the contact breaker is closed, the movable electrode 4 projects out of the shield 16 to contact the static electrode 2.

While other materials may be used, the inventors favour polymeric material for the insulating shield 16. The currently preferred material is polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE). The shield lies closely around one of the electrodes, in the present example the movable electrode 2, which it partly surrounds, and is of a type referred to as a "close proximity shield".

The particular arrangement and configuration of the electrodes and shield is presented merely by way of example and may differ in other embodiments.

The background gas of the present exemplary embodiment is nitrogen (N2) at a pressure of 25 kPa (3.7 psi). It is found in experiment that the illustrated circuit breaker performs well despite its lack of a background gas (such as SF6) with high dielectric properties, and the fact that the gas is at low pressure. This is contrary to expectation. It is believed by the inventors that this good performance is due to the presence of both the shield and the sub-atmospheric pressure background gas. The inventors have found that in the illustrated circuit breaker ablation promoted arc extinction is enhanced by reducing the background gas pressure below atmospheric pressure.

While the intention is not to limit the present invention by reference to any specific explanation of its performance, it is believed that the effect of the low background gas pressure is to cause the plasma arc produced upon breaking of the circuit to spread more widely, as compared with the arc created in a conventional high pressure device, and thereby to increase ablation of the shield 16. The shield comprises a material which ablates to gaseous form in the presence of an electrical arc. In the exemplary embodiment the PTFE shield is known to be capable of arc induced ablation and to produce in response fluorines and fluorides with excellent arc extinguishing properties. Chemical reactions produce gases including carbon tetrafluoride (CF4) and C2F6. The process involves sublimation of the PTFE monomers and their dissociation, which processes are in themselves endothermic. The inventors have calculated, based on the current and duration of the arc and on the mass ablated from the shield, that roughly 30% of the arc's energy can in experimental examples go into ablation of the shield material, assisting extinguishing of the arc. The ablated material also provides a "chemical puff" of arc-extinguishing gas. The effect is to provide effective arc extinction without need of SF6 as a background gas. Following striking of the arc, pressure in the region of the electrodes is temporarily increased by the heat and the ablation products generated by the arc and this increased pressure is also believed to assist arc extinction. Products of the ablation may be vented through the open ends of the shield 16.

Certain of the gases produced by the arc induced shield ablation are in themselves environmentally undesirable but it is believed that at least some of the chemical species produced by arc ablation re-combine to leave materials that are environmentally non-threatening. That is, the chemical species required for arc extinction are, at least in part, only transiently produced. Following arc extinction and with appropriate delays caused by chemical recombination time scales the chemically reactive fluorine/fluorides recombine to form solid fluorides which do not easily disperse to form an environmental threat as do halogenic gases.

In order to enhance dielectric recovery with gas pressure while respecting the need for sub-atmospheric gas pressure for ablation induced arc extinction, the illustrated embodiment utilises a "reverse puffer" principle. Piston action of the moving contact 4 within the shield 16 is used, upon withdrawal of the contact 4, to reduce the pressure within the cavity in the shield 16. This enables the ablation to be maximised for the thermal recovery (including ablation enhanced pressurisation) whilst subsequently providing sufficient gas pressure for good dielectric withstand.

Test results are provided in support of the claim regarding the efficacy of sub-atmospheric pressure operation and of gases other than SF6. Figure 3 shows the shortest gap lengths between contacts required to interrupt an alternating fault current of peak value 20kA for various gas pressure in the range 6kPa to 580 kPa (0.8 to 84 psi), the horizontal scale being logarithmic. Results are provided for five different gases - SF6, N2, air, CO2 and Ar. Notable features are:

  1. (a) Relatively small dependence upon gas pressure with SF6
  2. (b) The improved interruption with N2 for p<48kPa (7psi)
  3. (c) The similar performance of N2 to SF6 for p<48kPa (7psi)
  4. (d) The similar behaviour of CO2, air to N2, SF6 for p<48kPa (7psi)
  5. (e) The generally poorer performance of Ar but nonetheless showing a similar trend as N2 and CO2.

The similar performance of the gases tested below 48kPa (7psi) implies the dominance of a common feature believed to be ablation of the shield and pressurisation due to arc heating of the products of ablation.

Weighing the PTFE shield used in the tests after some 250 test firings indicates on average a PTFE weight loss of 0.14 grams per firing (for cylinder and moving electrode diameter 2.2cm). The erosion of the PTFE wall was significant but not excessive and performance deteriorated only slightly over 250 tests at fault currents of 20KA max.

Fig. 4 shows the results of experiments to examine the effect of peak alternating current on the critical gap length for current interruption at a pressure of 3.7 psi. These show a trend for the interruption performance at lower currents to be approximately as effective as at 20 KA, as judged by the critical gap length criterion.

Tests have also been conducted on an 80:20 N2:SF6 mixture, which behaves in a similar manner to pure SF6 and N2. At the present state of knowledge, there therefore appears to be no significant advantage in utilising N2:SF6 mixtures in preference to pure N2 unless the recovery of dielectric strength might be improved.

The critical gap length results of Figs. 3 and 4 are supported by measurements of the magnitude of the voltage extinction peaks close to the critical gap length for current interruption for the various gases at 20kA peak current and a pressure of 25kPa (3.7 psi), Fig. 5. In this diagram the labels on the Z axis are as follows:-

  • XP1 = first half-cycle extinction peak;
  • XP2 = second half-cycle extinction peak;
  • RP = second half-cycle re-ignition peak;
and the parenthesised labels:-
  1. (1) denotes 1 x half cycle critical firing and
  2. (2) denotes 2 x half cycle pre-critical firing.

It should be noted that the requirement for sub atmospheric pressure gas in the vicinity of the electrode and shield upon striking of the electrical arc may be met, eg. by virtue of the illustrated "reverse puffer" arrangement, without the ambient pressure of background gas in the enclosure 12 being below atmospheric. Thus the background gas pressure may be atmospheric (or conceivably even higher) with the required sub-atmospheric pressure around the electrodes being transiently created when the circuit breaker is activated to break the circuit.

Furthermore the pressure in this vicinity is, as has been noted above, increased by the action of the electrical arc and so is transiently increased following striking of the arc.


Anspruch[de]
Schalter, der Folgendes umfasst: eine erste und eine zweite Elektrode (2, 4), die miteinander in Kontakt gebracht werden können, um einen elektrischen Schaltkreis (6) zu schließen, einen Rückzugmechanismus (8) zum Bewegen einer Elektrode von der anderen weg, um den Schaltkreis zu unterbrechen, und eine Abschirmung (12), die in der Nähe der Elektroden angeordnet ist, so dass sie einer Abtragung durch den zuvor genannten Lichtbogen ausgesetzt ist, wobei das Material und die Anordnung der Abschirmung derart beschaffen sind, dass ihre Abtragung durch den Lichtbogen verursacht, dass sie ein lichtbogenlöschendes Gas freigibt, wobei die Vorrichtung des Weiteren Mittel (4, 8, 16) umfasst, um mindestens in der Nähe der Elektroden und zum Zeitpunkt des Überschlagens eines Lichtbogens zwischen diesen während des Unterbrechens des Schaltkreises einen Gasdruck von weniger als 101325 Pascal bereitzustellen, und durch die Bereitstellung einer abgedichteten Einfassung gekennzeichnet ist, die die Elektrode und die Abschirmung enthält, wobei die Einfassung ein Hintergrundgas enthält. Schalter nach Anspruch 1, wobei die Abschirmung (12) einen Hohlraum abgrenzt, in dem Lichtbogenbildung stattfindet. Schalter nach Anspruch 1 oder Anspruch 2, wobei die Abschirmung (12) ein Polymermaterial umfasst. Schalter nach einem der vorhergehenden Ansprüche, wobei die Abschirmung (12) PTFE umfasst. Schalter nach einem der vorhergehenden Ansprüche, der Mittel (4, 8, 16) umfasst, um während des Vorgangs des Unterbrechens des elektrischen Schaltkreises (6) der nächsten Umgebung der ersten und zweiten Elektrode (2, 4) Gas zu entziehen, wobei der Druck in dieser Umgebung vorübergehend verringert wird. Schalter nach Anspruch 5, wobei die zuvor genannten Mittel zum Entziehen von Gas eine Kolben-Zylinder-Anordnung (4, 16) umfasst. Schalter nach Anspruch 6, wobei der Kolben entweder durch die erste oder durch die zweite Elektrode (2, 4) gebildet wird. Schalter nach Anspruch 6 oder Anspruch 7, wobei der Zylinder durch die Abschirmung (16) gebildet wird. Schalter nach einem der vorhergehenden Ansprüche, wobei der Hintergrundgasdruck unter dem atmosphärischen Druck liegt. Schalter nach einem der vorhergehenden Ansprüche, wobei das Hintergrundgas mindestens entweder Stickstoff, Argon, Kohlendioxid oder Luft umfasst. Schalter nach einem der vorhergehenden Ansprüche, wobei das Hintergrundgas einen Druck von 60 kPa oder weniger aufweist.
Anspruch[en]
A circuit breaker comprising first and second electrodes (2, 4) which are contactable with each other to complete an electrical circuit (6), a withdrawal mechanism (8) for moving one electrode away from the other to break the circuit, and a shield (12) arranged in proximity to the electrodes such as to be subject to ablation by the aforementioned arc, the material and arrangement of the shield being such that its ablation by the arc causes it to release arc-extinguishing gas, the device further comprising means (4, 8, 16) for providing, at least in the vicinity of the electrodes and at the instant of striking of an arc between them during breaking of the circuit, a gas pressure below 101325 Pascals, and being characterised by provision of a sealed enclosure containing the electrode and the shield, the enclosure containing a background gas. A circuit breaker as claimed in claim 1 wherein the shield (12) defines a cavity within which arcing takes place. A circuit breaker as claimed in claim 1 or claim 2 wherein the shield (12) comprises polymeric material. A circuit breaker as claimed in any preceding claim wherein the shield (12) comprises PTFE. A circuit breaker as claimed in any preceding claim comprising means (4, 8,16) for withdrawing gas from the vicinity of the first and second electrodes (2, 4) during the process of breaking the electric circuit (6), thereby transiently reducing pressure in this vicinity. A circuit breaker as claimed in claim 5, wherein the aforesaid means for withdrawing gas comprises a piston/cylinder arrangement (4, 16). A circuit breaker as claimed in claim 6, wherein the piston is formed by one of the first and second electrodes (2, 4). A circuit breaker as claimed in claim 6 or claim 7, wherein the cylinder is formed by the shield (16). A circuit breaker as claimed in any preceding claim, wherein the background gas pressure is sub-atmospheric. A circuit breaker as claimed in any preceding claim, wherein the background gas comprises at least one of nitrogen, argon, carbon dioxide and air. A circuit breaker as claimed in any preceding claim, wherein the background gas is at a pressure of 60 kPa or less.
Anspruch[fr]
Un disjoncteur comprenant une première et une deuxième électrodes (2, 4) qui peuvent être mises en contact l'une avec à l'autre pour constituer un circuit électrique (6), un mécanisme de retrait (8) destiné à éloigner une électrode de l'autre pour couper le circuit et un blindage (12) placé à proximité des électrodes de façon à faire l'objet d'une ablation par l'arc susmentionné, le matériau et l'agencement du blindage étant tels que son ablation par l'arc l'amène à libérer un gaz d'extinction d'arc, le dispositif comprenant en outre un moyen (4, 8, 16) de fournir, au moins dans le voisinage des électrodes et à l'instant de l'amorçage d'un arc entre elles au cours de la coupure du circuit, une pression de gaz inférieure à 101 325 pascals et étant caractérisé par la fourniture d'une enceinte scellée contenant l'électrode et le blindage, l'enceinte contenant un gaz résiduel. Un disjoncteur selon la Revendication 1 où le blindage (12) définit une cavité à l'intérieur de laquelle la formation d'arc a lieu. Un disjoncteur selon la Revendication 1 ou 2 où le blindage (12) comprend un matériau polymère. Un disjoncteur selon l'une quelconque des Revendications précédentes où le blindage (12) comprend du polytétrafluoréthylène (PTFE). Un disjoncteur selon l'une quelconque des Revendications précédentes comprenant un moyen (4, 8, 16) destiné à retirer du gaz du voisinage de la première et de la deuxième électrodes (2, 4) au cours du processus de coupure du circuit électrique (6), réduisant ainsi de manière transitoire la pression dans ce voisinage. Un disjoncteur selon la Revendication 5, où le moyen précité de retrait du gaz comprend un agencement piston/cylindre (4, 16). Un disjoncteur selon la Revendication 6, où le piston est constitué par l'une de la première ou de la deuxième électrodes (2,4). Un disjoncteur selon la Revendication 6 ou 7, où le cylindre est constitué par le blindage (16). Un disjoncteur selon l'une quelconque des Revendications précédentes, où la pression du gaz résiduel est sub-atmosphérique. Un disjoncteur selon l'une quelconque des Revendications précédentes, où le gaz résiduel comprend au moins l'un des gaz suivants : azote, argon, dioxyde de carbone et air. Un disjoncteur selon l'une quelconque des Revendications précédentes, où le gaz résiduel se situe à une pression de 60 kPa ou moins.






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