XPS studies of Surface Ageing and Discharge Processes in Polymeric Insulators

  • Patrick Lunt

Student thesis: Phd


The ageing of polymer insulation occurs under long-term exposure to high electric fields and has attracted research due its relevance to high voltage insulation. In this work, polymers that have been electrically aged via a number of methods have been investigated using X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS). Despite some use in the investigation of outdoor insulation surfaces, XPS has not been used for investigations of polymer bulk electrical ageing before now. The first XPS measurements, using both small spot analysis and XPS imaging, are presented from the exposed inner surfaces of electrically aged artificial voids and electrical breakdown channels, as well as corona discharge aged surfaces and spark discharge by-products. XPS is shown to be a valuable technique for the investigation of polymer electrical ageing. Investigations into breakdown channels are supported by data acquired using X-ray photoemission electron microscopy (XPEEM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM).Results show that the chemistry present at these surfaces takes the form of significant oxidation over a wide area with localised production of graphitic carbon. C-O-, C=O, and O-C=O species are detected in all cases. It is found that similar ageing products are present regardless of the ageing process or material investigated. However, the level of oxidation and relative ratio of the species seen with XPS is shown to be highly dependant on oxygen availability. Greater intensity of carbon oxides, and a shift towards highly oxidised species, is observed when there is more oxygen in the system. XPS imaging of breakdown channels reveals that high concentrations of oxidised components form on the outer edges of the channel, with graphitic carbon forming in the central regions. In addition, evidence for degradation is seen to extend at least 300 micro metre from channels in XPS imaging and at least ~650 micro metre in XPS line scans.Variation with the applied discharge energy was investigated for breakdown channels and spark discharge ageing. Evidence is seen for an energy dependence on the breakdown products, with higher energies producing relatively higher graphitic carbon and reduced oxidation products. Further, the relationship between the applied voltage and graphitic carbon concentration suggests an activated process with an energy barrier before graphitic carbon formation starts.XPS observations are supported by confocal Raman microprobe spectroscopy (CRMS) results from artificial voids and electrical breakdown channels, which identify graphitic carbon on a fluorescent background as the main features. XPS data indicate oxidised species are the origin of the fluorescence seen and provides quantitative information on the levels, chemical states and spatial distribution of these species and of graphitic carbon.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorWendy Flavell (Supervisor)


  • X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy
  • Electrical breakdown
  • Surface science

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