Está en la página 1de 12

Home Search Collections Journals About Contact us My IOPscience

Trichel pulse characteristics—negative corona discharge in air

This article has been downloaded from IOPscience. Please scroll down to see the full text article.

2011 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 155502


View the table of contents for this issue, or go to the journal homepage for more

Download details:
IP Address:
The article was downloaded on 17/02/2013 at 23:13

Please note that terms and conditions apply.

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 (11pp) doi:10.1088/0022-3727/44/15/155502

Trichel pulse characteristics—negative

corona discharge in air
P Sattari1 , C F Gallo2 , G S P Castle1 and K Adamiak1
Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering University of Western Ontario London, ON,
Superconix Inc, 2440 Lisbon Ave, Lake Elmo, MN 55042, USA
E-mail:,, and

Received 17 October 2010, in final form 10 February 2011

Published 28 March 2011
Online at

In this paper a three-species two-dimensional model is used for the simulation of the Trichel
pulse regime of corona discharge in air for a point-plane configuration. Effects of different
parameters of the model on Trichel pulse characteristics (Trichel pulse period and the average
corona current) are studied. The parameters of interest are external resistance of the circuit,
secondary electron emission coefficient and negative and positive ion mobilities. Moreover,
the numerical simulation was performed for the configuration used in the experimental
analysis reported in the literature and the results proved to be very compatible.
(Some figures in this article are in colour only in the electronic version)

1. Introduction the negative space-charge formation and subsequent clearing

of the gap is the cause of the periodic character of the
Investigations on the formation of Trichel pulse corona started discharge. A negative cloud of space charge is formed far
in 1934 when Trichel observed a pulsating current mode in the from the discharge electrode and a positive cloud is formed
negative corona discharge. These pulses were later named near this electrode. The presence of positive ions increases the
the Trichel pulses and are characterized by very short rise electric field near the discharge electrode and decreases the
times and short durations separated by much longer inter- electric field between the positive and the negative ion clouds.
pulse periods. The Trichel pulses only occur in electronegative Therefore, no ionization can take place beyond the positive
gases. In oxygen and air, these pulses are very regular while ion cloud. Subsequently, the positive ions move towards the
in some other gases, such as SF6 , they are more irregular. corona electrode under the effect of the electric field: this
It was believed that in a non-electronegative (nonattaching) narrows the region of the enhanced electric field and, finally,
gas such as nitrogen, current is continuous without pulses [1]. the ionization process stops.
However, Akishev et al [2, 3] performed an experiment on a Loeb’s [5] experimental results showed that these regular
negative corona in a point-plane configuration with nitrogen pulses exist only in electronegative gases. He presented a
as the ambient gas and could reproduce a pulsating current theory which involved successive electron avalanches, each
similar to Trichel pulse regime under very specific conditions. giving rise to three successors near the end of its development
They discovered that since in nitrogen, unlike in air, to explain this phenomenon. However, this theory could not
the onset voltage of the negative corona is larger than its explain the fast rise time of 1.5 ns observed in air at atmospheric
steady-state value, if the voltage is not decreased after the pressure. Zentner [6] did some measurements on the current
onset of corona, low-current Trichel pulse regime will not rise time and found out that it can be as short as 1.3 ns.
occur and corona immediately goes to high-current regime Lama and Gallo [7] carried out a series of carefully
without Trichel pulses. To prevent this from happening, they designed experiments and determined the dependence of pulse
diminished the applied voltage after the inception of the corona frequency, charge per pulse and time-averaged corona current
discharge. with the applied voltage, needle-tip radius, and needle-to-
Several researchers have tried to explain the periodic plane spacing. They embellished the physical mechanism
character of the discharge. Trichel [4] himself predicted that proposed by Trichel and Loeb. That is, there is a very

0022-3727/11/155502+11$33.00 1 © 2011 IOP Publishing Ltd Printed in the UK & the USA
J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

rapid electron Townsend avalanche from the tip, followed by radius. Their observations showed that corona discharge
electron attachment to electronegative molecules to form a characteristics in air can be calculated in the pressure range of
slow moving negative ion cloud that reduces the electric field 0.12–7 MPa using the Townsend criterion. They showed that
below threshold and thus chokes the discharge. The corona the Paschen law is still valid in high pressure air (up to 7 MPa)
discharge then remains off until the negative ion cloud drifts provided that a very small point electrode is used. Some of
sufficiently far from the tip that the electric field rises above their findings are as follows:
threshold and the discharge re-ignites. This is repeated in
• the relation between corona onset level and pressure is
successive stages leading to Trichel current pulses. Lama
Vs = P n with n = 0.6 ± 0.1,
and Gallo analysed the electric field and presented equations
• corona onset level is proportional to point radii for a given
for several parameters (as functions of applied voltage, gap
spacing and tip radius) utilizing their data as follows:
• the pulse frequency is proportional to average corona
• ‘transit time’: the time for a negative ion cloud to current at a constant pressure and for a specific
transverse the gap. configuration,
• ‘clearing length’: the distance the choking negative ion • the mean charge per pulse is proportional to radius,
cloud must move before the electric field regains its • pulse duration has an inverse relation with pressure,
breakdown value and the corona discharge re-ignites. • at P > 1 MPa, regular and highly stable Trichel pulses
• the number of negative ion charge clouds in the gap at any are obtained,
given time, particularly as a function of applied voltage. • the ratio of apparent charge per pulse (Qi ) and mean
• the total negative ion charge in the gap at any given time, charge per pulse (Q) is always smaller than 0.5,
particularly as a function of applied voltage. • the pulse period is only a small fraction of the ion transit
time except at just above the onset voltage.
By incorporating actual data into the expressions for
the space-charge-free electric field, Lama and Gallo were Castellanos et al [14] proposed a three-species model
able to obtain equations for the complex space-charge to study corona discharge in oxygen at reduced pressure
perturbed situation. These equations remain to be verified by (50 Torr). They solved the problem in 1D using a particle-
independent analyses. Depending upon applied voltage, their in-cell technique. They even compared their results with
major conclusion is that there are many negative ion charge experimental data but the model they were using was in oxygen
clouds simultaneously in transit across the gap. and was working at a reduced pressure while the experimental
Lama and Gallo extended their studies to the interaction data were reported for air and at atmospheric pressure [7].
of two interacting negative Trichel coronas as a function Moreover, their used geometry was different from that of
of spacing as the main new interesting variable. They experiment. Therefore, they did not expect a quantitative
analysed their experimental results with equivalent circuit agreement between experimental and numerical results. Still
models describing the energy of the interacting coronas. Their their model and technique had some advantages: it was fast
results are of interest for future studies [8]. and they could obtain a reasonable agreement between the
Aleksandrov [9] presented the theory of parallel characteristics of Trichel pulse in simulation and experiment.
development of several avalanches rather than successive Napartovich et al [15] proposed a 1.5D numerical model
avalanches. He therefore succeeded in predicting much faster for the analysis of Trichel pulses. They could model the
rise times for the main pulse. Kekez et al [10] used an sequence of Trichel pulses in dry air for short gaps (<1 cm).
equivalent circuit for the point-to-plane corona discharge and The same authors later presented a two-dimensional model
described the succession of pulses. However, his model could for negative corona discharge in air and successfully showed
not explain the detailed mechanism of the pulse formation. the presence of a sequence of Trichel pulses [16]. This
In 1985, Morrow [11, 12] proposed a one-dimensional paper, however, did not contain any details on the technique
model for the development of Trichel pulses by applying the and the used model. Some other authors used similar
combined finite-difference and flux-corrected transport (FCT) simplified models in order to reproduce chains of Trichel
technique to solve the set of continuity equations along with pulses [10, 17, 18].
Poisson’s equation. He could only model the first Trichel Georghiou et al [19] presented a two-dimensional
pulse and offered a theoretical explanation for the different model for Trichel pulse simulation in air. They used
stages of the pulse. His work was the best-known among COMSOL-Multiphysics (a finite-element-method (FEM)-
all the attempts for theoretical explanation of the corona based commercial solver) for solving the corresponding
discharge phenomenon. The results agreed well with the equations. Their results, however, were not compatible with
experimental data on the current–voltage dependence and also experimental expectations. The period of the Trichel pulses
on the dynamics of the pulse initiation. However, the extension they calculated was approximately 20 times smaller than the
of the calculations to longer times showed only continuing experimental predictions for the same configuration.
decay of the current without subsequent pulses. Although In this paper, a two-dimensional numerical model,
Morrow did explain the different stages of the pulse, he ignored incorporating three species (electron, positive oxygen ion and
the ion secondary emission. negative oxygen ion), is used for simulating the negative corona
Atten co-workers [13] investigated the process of corona discharge in air. Effects of different parameters (i.e. external
discharge in air as a function of gas pressure and point resistance, secondary electron emission coefficient, negative

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

therefore, a coarser mesh was selected. The distance between

the nodes varies from 5 µm close to the corona electrode to
2 mm far from the electrode.
For the charge continuity equations, FEM creates
oscillatory results, which lead to the algorithm divergence.
Therefore, another technique needed to be implemented to
remove the oscillations. A combination of FEM and FCT
proved to be a feasible solution. In this technique, artificial
oscillations in the calculated results, which occur when a
classical FEM approach for the charge transport equations
is used, are removed using a three-step procedure [22].
Figure 1. Circuit model of the needle-plane configuration. The detailed description of the model and the technique are
published in a previous paper [20].
and positive ion mobilities) on the Trichel pulse characteristics
are investigated. The numerical results are compared with the 3. Results
experimental data reported by Lama and Gallo [7] for a specific
configuration of electrodes (needle radius and gap distance). In this section, a series of Trichel pulses for a specific condition
A rather satisfactory agreement between numerical results and is presented first. Moreover, the effects of different parameters,
experimental data is observed. external resistance, Rext , secondary electron emission, γ , and
ion mobilities on the electrical properties of Trichel pulses
2. Mathematical model and numerical algorithm (T , Iaverage ), are shown. There are two different sets of r
and d reported in this paper. In section 4.3, r = 10 µm and
The corona discharge is modelled in a point-plane d = 6 mm, which represents the same configuration used in
configuration. A conducting needle is hyperbolic with a tip obtaining the experimental data reported by Lama and Gallo
radius curvature of r and length L. It is placed at a distance d [7]. All the other results are obtained using r = 100 µm and
from the infinitely large conducting plate, which is grounded. d = 10 mm.
A negative potential Vc is applied to the needle. An external The simulation process of Trichel pulses in two
(ballast) resistance Rext is connected in series between the
dimensions is very time and memory consuming. Therefore,
needle and the voltage source. Cd is the capacitance of the air
to make the process of studying the effect of different
gap and it was calculated numerically to be equal to 0.055 pF.
parameters on the Trichel pulse characteristics possible, only
The stray capacitance of the external resistor is disregarded.
the first six Trichel pulses are simulated for each case and the
The ambient gas is air at room temperature and atmospheric
characteristics of Trichel pulses are obtained based on these
pressure. Figure 1 shows the circuit model of the needle-plane
six pulses.
This system is assumed to be axisymmetric, which means
that the equations should be solved in two dimensions using 3.1. Trichel pulses for V = −8 kV, γ = 0.01, Rext = 100 k
variables x and r, where x is the axial distance and r indicates
the radial distance. A voltage of −8 kV was applied to the needle-plane system
For the simulation of corona discharge, both the electric and the corona current, displacement current and total current
field and charge density distributions need to be calculated. versus time is plotted in figures 2(a)–(c), with six sequential
The electric field is governed by the Poisson equation, while pulses shown. The time differences between subsequent
the charge density distribution can be determined by solving pulses are 14.35, 8.75, 9.61, 10.4 and 10.88 µs. Therefore,
three charge transport equations for the three ionic species it is clear that after some initial variations the Trichel pulses
considered [20]. These four equations are combined with the become almost regular. The peak currents of the pulses are
Kirchhoff voltage equation for the electric circuit, where the approximately 15, 1.8, 2.04, 1.72, 1.71 and 1.73 mA.
total current in the circuit is obtained using Sato’s formula [21]. The first pulse in the series of Trichel pulses always has
The boundary conditions for positive, Np , and negative, a different behaviour. Its amplitude is much larger than the
Nn , ions are Np = 0 on the ground plane Nn = 0 on the corona rest of the pulses and the time interval between the first and
electrode. second pulse is usually longer than the period between pulses
For electrons, the value of electron charge density at in steady state. This is due to the fact that the first pulse is
different points of the corona electrode is obtained using the always produced in a charge-free space. There is no significant
secondary electron emission coefficient [20]. negative charge in the space to suppress the electric field in the
Since the electric field variations are very steep in both ionization region. As a result, the maximum value of electric
space and time, the problem should be discretized very field for the first pulse is larger than its value for the rest of
carefully. To capture the steep variations of electric field near the pulses. Therefore, the avalanche ionization is stronger and
the corona electrode, a non-uniform grid has to be used. This the total charge of electrons and positive ions, created due to
grid was made very fine near the corona electrode. In the the avalanche ionization, is larger, resulting in the much larger
remaining region, the electric field variation is more uniform; corona current for the first pulse.

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

Figure 2. (a) Corona current for V = −8 kV, (b) Displacement current for V = −8 kV, (c) total current for V = −8 kV (the amplitude of
the total current at the first pulse is approximately equal to the amplitude of the displacement current at t = 0).

Moreover, since the total charge of negative ions created in tables 1–3 and figures 3 and 4. Figure 3 shows Trichel
due to attachment during the first pulse is larger than the total pulse period versus applied voltage for three different external
charge of negative ions created during the subsequent pulses, resistances. The standard deviation of the period at each
these negative ions need more time to drift towards the ground applied voltage is also shown in this figure. Figure 4 shows
plate. Therefore, more time is needed for the electric field to the average corona current versus applied voltage for the three
increase above the value required for avalanche ionization and external resistances.
for the appearance of the next Trichel pulse. From the numerical simulation data, it can be observed that
• as the external resistance decreases, the time between
3.2. Effect of external resistance the first pulse and the second pulse increases (figures 11
and 12),
A ballast resistor usually exists between the voltage source and
• as the external resistance decreases, the period of the
the corona electrode and it is intended to
pulses increases (with the exception of V = −8 kV case)
• protect the elements of the circuit in the case of spark (figure 3),
discharge or short-circuit, • as the external resistance decreases, the value of the
• limit the amount of current in the electric circuit. In maximum current increases, (figures 11 and 12).
the corona discharge when the total current increases, the
To explain the reasons for these observations, figures 5–12
voltage drop on the ballast resistor increases reducing the
are presented. These figures show the total charge of positive
voltage applied to the corona electrode and thus reducing
ions, electrons and negative ions and the corona current for
the applied field and gas ionization.
two different values of the external resistance. By comparing
In this section, the Trichel pulse characteristics, average the corresponding figures for Rext = 10 k and Rext =
pulse periods, standard deviation of the periods and average 100 k, it is clear that total charge of positive ions and
corona current, were investigated for three different values of electrons created in the case of smaller resistance is much larger
the external resistance in the circuit. The results are presented than the total charge of positive ions and electrons created

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

Table 1. Trichel pulse characteristics for different applied voltages, 20

Rext = 100 k. R
R =50MΩ
Voltage 7 kV 8 kV 9 kV 10 kV ext
∗ Rext=10MΩ
Taverage 13.5 µs 9.9 µs 6.6 µs 6.2 µs

Trichel pulse period (µs)

Iaverage 13.6 µA 19.0 µA 28.1 µA 33.3 µA

St. D. of Taverage 2.09 0.81 0.61 0.80 15
Gallo’s T 11.3 µs 8.1 µs 6.1 µs 4.8 µs
Gallo’s Iaverage 17.1 µA 23.7 µA 31.4 µA 40.0 µA

Table 2. Trichel pulse characteristics for different applied voltages,

Rext = 50 k.
Voltage 7 kV 9 kV

Taverage 13.8 µs 6.7 µs
Iaverage 12.4 µA 27.8 µA

St. D. of Taverage 1.64 0.86
6.5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10 10.5
Applied voltage (kV)
Table 3. Trichel pulse characteristics for different applied voltages,
Rext = 10 k. Figure 3. Trichel pulse period versus applied voltage for different
external resistances.
Voltage 7 kV 8 kV 9 kV 10 kV

Taverage 17.1 µs 9.2 µs 9.1 µs 7.7 µs
Iaverage 11.7 µA 19.8 µA 25.8 µA 32.9 µA 35

St. D. of Taverage 1.34 0.88 0.35 1.62
Average corona current (µA)


in the case of larger resistance. Subsequently, these ions

need more time to migrate towards the ground plate. Therefore,
the average period of the pulses increases as the external
resistance decreases. Since for smaller external resistances,
the voltage drop is smaller, a larger voltage is applied to the 20
corona electrode. A larger voltage creates a stronger electric
field. Therefore, more charges are needed to reduce the electric
Average corona current for Rext=100kΩ
field below the ionization level. For the same reason, the 15
Average corona current for Rext=50kΩ
time interval between the first two pulses for smaller external
resistances is much larger than the time interval between the Average corona current for R =10kΩ
first two pulses for larger resistances. 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10
As the average period of pulses increases, the average Applied voltage (kV)
corona current decreases. The reason is that, even though
Figure 4. Average corona current versus applied voltage for
the peak values of current are larger, a longer period means different external resistances.
a greater time interval at which the corona current has very
small values. Therefore, average corona current is smaller.
The effect of external resistance on the system is nonlinear. It is expected that as the mobility of ions increases,
This is why the difference between Trichel pulse characteristics they move faster and the period of the pulses will
for Rext = 100 k and Rext = 50 k is not as dramatic decrease and, therefore, the average corona current will also
as the differences between these two cases and the case of increase. This is confirmed by numerical results presented in
Rext = 10 k. It seems that there is a critical value for external table 4.
resistance below which its effect on the system becomes
increasingly important. 3.4. Effect of secondary electron emission
Secondary electron emission relates the number of electrons
3.3. Effect of mobility emitted from the corona electrode to the number of positive
The pulsating nature of Trichel pulses are caused by the finite ions impacting this electrode.
time it takes ionic species to drift across the air gap. This µp
time is directly related to the drift velocity, which depends Nec = γ Npc
on the species mobility. Slightly different values of mobility
are reported in the literature. The effect of various mobility where γ is the secondary emission coefficient.
values of the positive and negative ions on the parameters of In the literature, the value of the secondary electron
the Trichel pulses has been studied in the presented numerical emission is assumed to be approximately 0.01. Investigating
model. the effect of this coefficient on Trichel pulse characteristics

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al
–10 –10
x 10 x 10

0.9 8

Total positive ion


Total electron


0.2 2

0.1 1

0 0
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180 0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Time (µs) Time (µs)
Figure 5. Total charge of positive ions versus time (Rext = 10 k). Figure 7. Total charge of electrons versus time (Rext = 10 k).
x 10 –10
8 x 10

Total positive ion

Total electron





0 0
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Time (µs) Time (µs)
Figure 6. Total charge of positive ions versus time (Rext = 100 k). Figure 8. Total charge of electrons versus time (Rext = 100 k).

seems to be important. Table 5 shows the effect of increasing and the Trichel pulse characteristics in both cases are
this coefficient. Figure 13 shows Trichel pulse period versus compared.
γ . The standard deviation of the period is also shown with a
bar at each point. Figure 14 shows the average corona current
versus secondary electron emission coefficient. As the table 4.1. Comparison with experimental data
and figures show, this coefficient does not seem to have any
significant effect on the Trichel pulse characteristics. In our previous publication [22] we compared our numerical
results with some experimental data. These are repeated here
as figure 15 showing the Trichel pulse period for different
4. Comparison with experimental results applied voltages from the experimental data obtained by Lama
and Gallo [7] alongside the average period of the numerical
In this section, first some of our numerical simulation results results obtained from our numerical technique. The relation
are compared with the experimental data previously reported between the experimental Trichel pulse frequency (period)
in the literature. Secondly, the experimental procedure versus applied voltage, spacing and tip radius, was expressed
used for obtaining uniform and reproducible Trichel pulses analytically by Lama and Gallo as
from negative corona discharge in electronegative gases is
presented. Finally, the numerical simulation is performed 1 K1 V (V − V0 )
f = ≈ (1)
for this same configuration used in the experimental analysis T rd 2

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

x 10
–9 0.05


Corona current (A)

1.2 0.035
Total negative ions


0.6 0.015

0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
0 Time (µs)
0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
Time (µs)
Figure 11. Total corona current versus time (Rext = 10 k).
Figure 9. Total charge of negative ions versus time (Rext = 10 k).

x 10
1.4 0.012
Corona current (A)

1.2 0.01

Total negative ions

0.8 0.006

0.6 0.004


0.2 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Time (µs)
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Figure 12. Total corona current versus time (Rext = 100 k).
Time (µs)
Table 4. Trichel pulse characteristics for V = −7 kV and different
Figure 10. Total charge of negative ions versus time ion mobilities.
(Rext = 100 k).
Ion mobilities kp = 2.24e4 kp = 1.94e4 kp = 1.9e4
kn = 2.16e4 kn = 2.2e4 kn = 2e4
where K1 ≈ 27 kHz mm3 kV−2 . The authors mentioned that ∗
Taverage 13.5 µs 14.3 µs 14.7 µs
K1 is dependent on the condition of the needle-tip surface, Iaverage 13.6 µA 12.7 µA 11.7 µA
ambient conditions, and the shape of the needle shaft and the ∗
St. D. of Taverage 2.09 1.92 1.68
tip. In their experimental set-up the corona onset voltage (V0 )
was equal to −2.3 kV, comparatively independent of tip radius
which is unexpected and unexplained. See figure 17 for some figure 17 for some elucidation.
I ≈ K2 V (V − V0 )/d 2 (2)
Figure 15 shows that the numerical data follow a similar
trend line to the experimental results, but the numerical results where K2 = 52 µA mm2 kV−2 .
considerably overestimate the pulse periods. Figure 16 shows According to equation (1) the Trichel pulse frequency is
the average corona current versus applied voltage both from the inversely proportional to the corona electrode radius and square
experimental investigations and numerical simulations. Both of the gap spacing. This is quite logical because as the distance
of these figures are obtained for r = 100 µm, d = 1 cm. Lama between the electrodes increases, negative ions take more time
and Gallo obtained the following formula to describe their data to travel towards the ground electrode. Therefore, the Trichel
on the corona current dependence on the applied voltage and pulse period increases and its frequency decreases. Moreover,
spacing. The data are again comparatively independent of a sharper corona electrode (with a smaller radius of curvature)
tip radius which is again unexpected and unexplained. See produces a larger electric field close to it. A larger electric

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

Table 5. Trichel pulse characteristics for different secondary 14

emission coefficients, V = −7 kV. Experimental data
13 Numerical simulation results
 0.005 0.01 0.05 0.08 Curve fitted to numerical results

∗ 12
Taverage 13.7 µs 13.5 µs 14.4 µs 12.9 µs

Trichel pulse period (µs)

Iaverage 13.2 µA 13.6 µA 12.3 µA 14.1 µA 11

St. D. of Taverage 1.45 2.09 1.89 1.55

Trichel pulse period (µs)



7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10
Applied voltage(kV)

Figure 15. Trichel pulse period versus applied voltage:

experimental and numerical results.
2 –5
x 10
0 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08 0.09
5 Experimental data
Secondary electron emission Numerical simulation results
Curve fitted to numerical results
Average corona current (A)

Figure 13. Trichel pulse period versus secondary electron emission.



Average corona current (µA)

10 2.5


5 7 7.5 8 8.5 9 9.5 10 10.5 11

Applied voltage (kV)

Figure 16. Average corona current versus applied voltage:

experimental and numerical results.
0 0.01 0.02 0.03 0.04 0.05 0.06 0.07 0.08 0.09
Secondary electron emission
especially at low voltages. This may be due to the difference
in geometry (tip-to-plate spacing) and microscopic issues near
Figure 14. Average corona current versus secondary electron the corona tip. For this reason, the simulation is repeated
emission. later in this section for the same configuration as used in the
field moves the ions faster and increases the frequency of the
4.2. Unusual appearance and unexplained physics at the
In addition, equation (2) shows the relation between the
Trichel pulse needle tip
average corona current and the gap spacing is also the inverse
squared. Since the Trichel pulse period is larger for larger To try and understand some of the unusual Trichel pulse
gap spacing, therefore, it should be expected that the average behaviour, we report in figure 17 some previously unpublished
corona current would be smaller. details of the experiments and observations as recorded by one
These figures confirm that increasing the applied voltage of the authors (Gallo). In order to obtain a uniform series of
decreases the Trichel pulse period (increases its frequency) Trichel pulses, needles of various sizes and shapes at different
and, therefore, increases the average corona current. The gap lengths were viewed under negative corona conditions with
numerical simulation results are very compatible with a tele-microscope, and simultaneously all measurements were
the experimental data, but they underestimate the periods done with electrical meters and an oscilloscope. The voltage

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

Table 6. Rough estimates of dimensions.

Tip radii (r) 3–50 µm
Gap spacing (d) 3–16 µm
Blunted tip portion (BTP) 0.6–10 µm
Ionization channel diameter (D) 0.12–2 µm
Length of the ionization channel (L) 1.2–20 µm

Table 7. Trichel pulse characteristics for V = −4 kV, r = 10 µm,

d = 6 mm.

Taverage 2.3 µs
Gallo’s T 2.0 µs
Iaverage 9.8 µA
Gallo’s Iaverage 9.8 µA

St. D. of Taverage 0.47

expected electric field lines) is an interesting topic for future

Figure 17. Unusual thin ionization channel leading to usual
cone-shaped corona. 4.3. Revised comparison with experimental data
In this section, we revise the calculations and analysis in
ranges started at the onset value (−2.3 kV) up to maximum
section 4.1 to compare with the Trichel pulse data of Lama
of −7 kV for the larger gaps, with lower maximum voltages
and Gallo [7] for several reasons as follows.
for smaller gaps. The data did not continue until sparking in
order to avoid instrument failure. The visual appearance of (i) From figure 17 and table 6, it is clear that there is an
the Trichel pulse corona is unusual as shown in figure 17. At ‘effective tip radius’ at the thin ionization channel that is
the negative needle tip, the existence of an extremely narrow much smaller than the actual radius of the needle tip.
bright ionization channel is conspicuous and unusual. Further (ii) The experimental fact that the threshold voltage is
from the needle tip, this channel abruptly expands into the approximately −2.3 kV and comparatively insensitive
usual corona cone configuration that then seems to follow the to tip radius is strong evidence that the usual electric
electric field lines into the gap. By contrast, for positive corona, field calculations for threshold voltage are not applicable,
this ionization channel is absent and the corona glow appears to probably because localized microscopic electron field
follow the electric field lines from the needle tip and throughout emission is operative in this case (figure 17).
the gap. (iii) Although the functional trends for both the data and
Because of this narrow ionization channel, the shape calculations are similar in figure 15 (Trichel pulse period)
of the needle tip is critically important for obtaining stable and figure 16 (average corona current), the numerical
reproducible Trichel pulses. For a very sharp needle tip, the values are quite different consistent with the discussion
ionization channel wobbles around the tip erratically and the in items 1 and 2 above.
Trichel pulses are irregular and non-reproducible (An analogy Thus the numerical calculations are repeated for a new
of this instability would be a sharpened pencil standing on its case with the ionization channel approximated by assuming
sharp end.). Loeb, Trichel and others have called these ‘mode a needle with ‘effective tip radius’ of 10 µm which is more
shifts’ in some mysterious context [1]. These observed ‘mode appropriate in view of the real microscopic situation displayed
shifts’ are actually due to wobbles in the physical location of in figure 17 and the distance between the needle and plate of
the ionization channel. To avoid this erratic behaviour, it was 6 mm. The applied voltage was set at −4 kV and the corona
found that tips with slightly blunt or flattened ends yielded the onset voltage for this configuration is assumed to be −2.3 kV.
most stable Trichel pulse behaviour. The ionization channel According to the experimental results for this configuration
was securely located at the centre of the slightly ‘blunt’ needle the period of pulses should be 1.96 µs and the average corona
tip as shown in figure 17. current is expected to be 9.8 µA.
This narrow ionization channel is not described by The numerical simulation results are shown in table 7.
present theory or simulations and may possibly be confined As this table shows the average Trichel pulse period is
magnetically by the high-current density. It is also probably calculated as 2.3 µs which is very close to experimental
responsible for the discrepancy between the measured low expectations and the average corona current is 12.1 µA. The
threshold voltage of −2.3 kV (approximately independent of agreement is very good as the value of calculated period agrees
tip radius) compared with calculated estimates of much higher within the standard deviation, but both average values tend to
−4.7 kV. Localized electron field emission may be involved overestimate the experimental expectations by 15% and 23%
in the unexpectedly low threshold voltage and its comparative respectively. This may be due to the arbitrary nature of the
insensitivity to tip radius. The physics of this narrow ionization approximation of the ionization zone (i.e. simplification of
channel as contrasted with the usual corona (which follows the shape) and assumed value of tip radius.

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al
x 10

4.5 500

Electron density (C/m )

4 400
Corona current (A)

3.5 300


1.5 0.02
Ra 0.01
1 dia 0
l di 0.015
P1 sta –0.01 0.01 )
nce (mm
0.5 (mm –0.02 0.005
ist ance
xial d
) A
0 2 4 6 8 10
Time (µs) Figure 20. Electron density at point P1.

Figure 18. Trichel pulse sequence for the applied voltage of

V = −4 kV. (P1 shows the half pulse rising of the fifth pulse).

Negative ion density (C/m )


Positive ion density (C/m3)


300 0.01

100 Ra
dia 5
l di 0 4
sta 3
0 nce 2 (mm
(mm –5 1
ist ance
xial d
0.02 ) 0
Ra 0.01
dia 0.02
l di 0 0.015
nce –0.01 0.01 m) Figure 21. Negative ion density at point P1.
(mm –0.02 0.005
) 0
Ax ial dis
5. Conclusions
Figure 19. Positive ion density at point P1.
In this paper, effects of different parameters of the corona
discharge model on Trichel pulse characteristics (Trichel pulse
4.4. Multiple negative charge clouds simultaneously in
period and the average corona current) were studied. From the
the gap
numerical simulation results, it was observed that
In order to have a three-dimensional (3D) visualization of (i) as the external resistance decreases, period of pulses
the distribution of charge carriers during a Trichel pulse, the increases,
distributions of electrons and negative and positive oxygen ions (ii) as the external resistance decreases, average corona
at a specific time instant are shown in this section. Figure 18 current decreases,
shows the Trichel pulse sequence for the configuration (iii) as the mobility of ions increases, the period of
discussed in the previous section. Five pulses are generated and pulse decreases and, therefore, average corona current
at the half pulse rising time of the fifth pulse, the 3D distribution increases,
of electron density, negative ion density and positive ion (iv) secondary electron emission coefficient does not seem to
densities is shown in figures 19–21. As these figures show, at have any significant effect on Trichel pulse characteristics,
the half pulse rising time, a very dense cloud of electrons and (v) the numerical and experimental data obtained for Trichel
positive ions exist near the corona electrode. These ions and pulse characteristics for the same configuration agree
electrons are created due to the avalanche ionization process. relatively well.
However, at this point, since the attachment process has not
started yet, the density of negative ions is much smaller than Acknowledgments
other species and negative ions are composed of several clouds
in the air gap. These clouds are created due to the previous The authors would like to acknowledge the helpful discussions
pulses which are not yet deposited on the ground. and advice of Dr P Atten during the course of this

J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 44 (2011) 155502 P Sattari et al

work. This project was in part financially supported by [10] Kekez M M, Savic P and Lougheed G D 1982 J. Phys. D:
the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Appl. Phys. 15 1963–73
[11] Morrow R 1985 Phys. Rev. A 32 1799–809
Canada (NSERC). This work was made possible by the
[12] Morrow R 1985 Phys. Rev. A 32 3821–4
facilities of the Shared Hierarchical Academic Research [13] Haidara M, Denat A and Atten P 1997 J. Electrostat.
Computing Network (SHARCNET: and 40–41 61–6
Compute/Calcul Canada. [14] Soria C, Pontiga F and Castellanous A 2007 J. Phys. D: Appl.
Phys. 40 4552–60
[15] Napartovich A P, Akishev Y S, Deryugin A A, Kochetov I V,
References Pan’kin M V and Trushkin N I 1997 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys.
30 2726–36
[1] Loeb L P 1965 Electrical Coronas (Berkely, CA: University of [16] Akishev Y S, Kochetov I V, Loboiko A I and Napartovich A P
California) 2002 Plasma Phys. Rep. 28 1049–59
[2] Akishev Y S, Grushin M E, Karal’nik V B and Trushkin N I [17] MacAlpine J M K and Yim W C 1995 Conf. on Electrical
2001 Plasma Phys. Rep. 27 520–31 insulation and Dielectric Phenomena (Virginia Beach, VA)
[3] Akishev Y S, Grushin M E, Karal’nik V B and Trushkin N I pp 118–21
2001 Plasma Phys. Rep. 27 532-41 [18] Vazqueza P A, Perez A T, Castellanos A and Atten P 2000
[4] Trichel G W 1938 Phys. Rev. 54 1078–84 Phys. Fluids 12 2809–18
[5] Loeb L B, Kip A F and Hudson G G 1941 Phys. Rev. [19] Tran T N, Golosnov I O, Levin P L and Georghiou G E 2009
60 714–22 IEEE Conf. on Electrical Insulation and Dielectric
[6] Zentner R 1970 Z. Angew. Physik 29 294–301 Phenomena, CEIDP ’09 (Virginia Beach, VA, 18–21
[7] Lama W L and Gallo C F 1974 J. Appl. Phys. October 2009) pp 592–5
45 103–13 [20] Sattari P, Castle G S P and Adamiak K 2010 IAS Annual
[8] Lama W L and Gallo C F 1973 J. Phys. D: Meeting (Houston, TX, 3–7 October 2010) pp 1–8
Appl. Phys. 6 1963–72 [21] Sato N 1980 J. Phys. D: Appl. Phys. 13 L3–5
[9] Aleksandrov G N 1963 Sov. Phys. Tech. Phys. [22] Sattari P, Castle G S P and Adamiak K 2010 IEEE Trans.
8 161–6 Indust. Appl. 46 1699–706