1. MT-201A MATERIALS SCIENCE
Electrical and Electronic Materials
Dr. Vikram Dabhade
Dept. of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering,
Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee,
• Dielectric material: is one that is electrically insulating (non-metallic)
and exhibits or may be made to exhibit an electric dipole structure; that is,
there is a separation of positive and negative electrically charged entities
on a molecular or atomic level.
• While insulating materials are used to resist the flow of current, dielectric
materials are used to store electrical energy.
• When a voltage is applied across a capacitor, one plate becomes positively
charged, the other negatively charged, with the corresponding electric field
directed from the positive to the negative. The capacitance C is related to the
quantity of charge stored on either plate Q by
where V is the voltage applied across the capacitor. The units of capacitance
are coulombs per volt, or farads (F).
3. • Now, consider a parallel-plate capacitor with a vacuum in the region
between the plates. The capacitance may be computed from the relationship
C = εo A
where A represents the area of the plates and l is the distance between them.
• The parameter εo is called the permittivity of a vacuum, is a universal
constant having the value of 8.86 x 10-12 F/m.
4. If a dielectric material is inserted into the region within the plates then
where ε is the permittivity of this dielectric medium, which will be greater
in magnitude than εo. The relative permittivity εr often called the dielectric
constant, is equal to the ratio
εr = ε
which is greater than unity and represents the increase in charge storing
capacity by insertion of the dielectric medium between the plates. The
dielectric constant is one material property that is of prime consideration for
5. Dielectric Constant (Permittivity)
As explained above, dielectric constant or permittivity of a material is defined
as the “ratio of capacitance of a capacitor with that material as dielectric
between the conducting plates, to the capacitance of the same capacitor with
vacuum as dielectric medium.”
εr = ε / εo or εr = c / co
The relative permittivity of vacuum is 1.00 and that of air is 1.00058 which
is taken as unity. Gases have a relative permittivity slightly higher than unity,
while polar liquids and ionic solids have high values of permittivity.
7. Dielectric Strength (breakdown voltage)
• Dielectric strength of an insulating material is the maximum electric field
strength that it can withstand intrinsically without breaking down, i.e., without
experiencing failure of its insulating properties or it is the minimum electric
field that produces breakdown in a given configuration of dielectric material.
• The dielectric strength is also know as the breakdown voltage i.e. the voltage
below which the dielectric material remains stable but above which it results in
the destruction of insulating properties.
• The theoretical dielectric strength of a material is an intrinsic property of the
bulk material and is dependent on the configuration of the material on which
the field is applied.
• At breakdown, the electric field frees bound electrons. If the applied electric
field is sufficiently high, free electrons may become accelerated to velocities
that can liberate additional electrons during collisions with neutral atoms or
molecules in a process called avalanche breakdown.
8. • Breakdown occurs quite abruptly (typically in nanoseconds)., resulting in
the formation of an electrically conductive path and a disruptive discharge
through the material. For solid materials, a breakdown event severely
degrades, or even destroys, its insulating capability.
• Factors affecting dielectric strength
1. It increases with the increase in thickness of the specimen. (Directly
2. It decreases with the increase in operating temperature. (Inversely
3. It decreases with the increase in frequency. (Inversely proportional)
4. It decreases with the increase in humidity. (Inversely proportional)
The field strength at which break down occurs in a given case is dependent
on the respective geometries of the dielectric (insulator) and the electrodes
with which the electric field is applied, as well as the rate of increase at which
the electric field is applied. Because dielectric materials usually contain
minute defects, the practical dielectric strength will be a fraction of the
intrinsic dielectric strength seen for ideal, defect free, material.
9. Table: Dielectric strength (in MV/m) of various common materials:
Substance Dielectric Strength (MV/m)
Air 3.0 (depends on pressure)
Window glass 9.8 - 13.8
Silicone oil, Mineral oil 10 - 15
Polyethylene 18.9 - 21.7
Neoprene rubber 15.7 - 27.6
Ultra pure Water 30
High Vacuum (field emission limited) ] 20 - 40 (depends on electrode shape)
Fused silica 25 - 40
Waxed paper 40 - 60
PTFE (Teflon) 60
Mica  20 - 70
Thin films of SiO2 in ICs > 1000
10. Dielectric Loss
• The dielectric material separating two electrodes / conductors / plates is
stressed when subjected to a potential. When the potential is reversed, the
stress is also reversed.
• This change of stress involves molecular rearrangement within the
dielectric. This involves energy loss with each reversal. This is because the
molecules have to overcome a certain amount of internal friction in the
process of alignment. The energy expended in the process is released as heat
in the dielectric.
“The loss appearing in the form of heat due to reversal of electric stresses
compelling molecular rearrangement is known as dielectric loss”
• The dielectric loss is not appreciable at ordinary frequency of 50 Hz, but in
communication systems where frequencies of mega hertz are used, the heat
released will be very high and can be observed by the increase in the
temperature of the dielectric material.
11. Dielectric Polarization
• A material is made up of atoms; each atom consists of a cloud of negative
charge (electrons) bound to and surrounding a positive point charge at its
center. Because of the comparatively huge distance between them, none of the
atoms in the dielectric material interact with one another.
• In the presence of an electric field the charge cloud is distorted, as shown in
the top right of the figure.
• This can be reduced to a simple dipole using the superposition principle. A
dipole is characterized by its dipole moment, a vector quantity shown in the
figure as the blue arrow labeled M. It is the relationship between the electric
field and the dipole moment that gives rise to the behavior of the dielectric
Figure: Electric field interaction with an atom under the classical dielectric model
12. Polar and Non-Polar Dielectrics
• Like water, alcohol, CO2, NH3, HCl etc. are
made of polar atoms/molecules.
• In polar molecules when no electric field is
applied centre of positive charges does not
coincide with the centre of negative charges.
• A polar molecule has permanent electric dipole moment in the absence of
electric field also. But a polar dielectric has net dipole moment is zero in the
absence of electric field because polar molecules
are randomly oriented as shown in figure.
• In the presence of electric field polar molecules tends to line up in the
direction of electric field, and the substance has finite dipole moment.
13. Non - Polar Dielectrics
• Like N2, O2, Benzene, Methane etc. are made of non-polar atoms/molecules.
In non-polar molecules, when no electric field is applied the centre of positive
charge coincides with the centre of negative charge in the molecule. Each
molecule has zero dipole moment in its normal state.
• When electric field is applied, positive charge experiences a force in the
direction of electric field and negative charge experiences a force in the
direction opposite to the field i.e., molecules becomes induced electric
14. 7.1 Matter Polarization and Relative Permittivity
Consider a parallel plate capacitor with vacuum as the dielectric medium
between the plates (Fig.(a)). The plates are connected to a constant voltage
supply V. Let Qo be the charge on the plates. The capacitance Co of the
parallel plate capacitor in free space is defined by
Co = Qo / V
Co = capacitance of a parallel plate capacitor in free space
Qo = charge on the plates
V = voltage
15. When a dielectric slab (slab of non-conducting material) is inserted into this
parallel plate capacitor (Fig.b & c) with V kept the same. Now due to the
insertion of the dielectric slab, there is an external current flow that indicates
that there is additional charge being stored on the plates. The charge on the
electrodes increases from Qo to Q. Because now there is greater amount of
charge stored on the plates, the capacitance of the system in Fig.(a) is larger
than that in Fig.(b) by the ratio Q to Qo.
The relative permittivity (or the dielectric constant) εr is defined to reflect this
increase in the capacitance or the charge storage capacity by virtue of having a
dielectric medium. If C is the capacitance with the dielectric medium (Fig.(c))
εr = Q/Qo = C/Co
The increase in the stored charge is due to the polarization of the dielectric by
the applied field.
16. Dipole Moment and Electronic Polarization
An electrical dipole moment is simply a separation between a negative and
positive charge of equal magnitude Q in a system of charges. In the simple case
of two point charges, one with charge + q and one with charge − q, the electric
dipole moment p is:
p = Qa
where a is the displacement vector pointing from the negative charge to the
positive charge (a in the scalar form is the bond length in the molecule which
has got polarized)
17. • The net charge within a neutral atom is zero. In the absence of an electric field
the center of negative charge of the electrons coincides with the positive
nuclear charge, means that the atom has no net dipole moment (Fig.7.3(a)).
• With an application of electric field induced dipole moment will take place
causing electrons being much lighter than the positive nucleus to get displaced
by the field. This results in the separation of the negative charge center from the
positive charge center as shown in Fig.7.3(b).
• This separation of negative and positive charges and the resulting induced
dipole moment are termed polarization. An atom is said to be polarized if it
possesses an effective dipole moment, that is, if there is a separation between
the centers of negative and positive charge distributions.
• The induced dipole moment depends on the electric field causing it. We define
a quantity called the polarizability α to relate the induced dipole moment
pinduced to the field E causing it,
pinduced = αE
where α is a coefficient called the polarizability of the atom. Since the
polarization of a neutral atom involves the displacement of electrons α is
generally called electronic polarization denoted as αe.
19. Polarization Vector P
• When a material is placed in an electric field, the atoms and molecules of the
material become polarized, so we have a distribution of dipole moments in the
material. We can visualize this effect with the insertion of a dielectric slab into
the parallel plate capacitor as shown in Fig.(a).
• The placement of the dielectric slab into an electric field polarizes the
molecules in the material. The induced dipole moments all point in the direction
of the field.
20. • Consider a polarized medium alone, as shown in Fig.(b) in which every
positive charge has a negative charge next to it and vice versa. There is
therefore no net charge within the bulk. But the positive charges of the dipoles
appearing at the right hand face are not canceled by negative charges of any
dipoles at this face. There is therefore a surface charge +Qp on the right hand
face that results from the polarization of the medium.
• Similarly, there is a negative charge -Qp with the same magnitude appearing
on the left hand face due to the negative charges of the dipoles at this face.
These charges are bound and are a direct result of the polarization of the
molecules. They are termed surface polarization charges.
• Fig(c) emphasizes this aspect of dielectric behavior in an electric field by
showing the dielectric and its polarization charges only.
• We represent the polarization of a medium by a quantity called polarization
P, which is defined as the total dipole moment per unit volume,
P = 1 [p1 + p2 + ……+ pN]
Where p1, p2,….pN are the dipole moments induced at N molecules in the
21. • If pav is the average dipole moment per molecule, then an equivalent
definition of P is P = Npav
• To calculate the polarization P for the polarized dielectric we need to sum all
the dipoles in the medium and divide by the volume Ad as in eqn.1. However
the polarized medium can be simply represented as in Fig.(c) in terms of
surface charge +QP and -QP, which are separated by the thickness distance d.
• We can view this arrangement as one big dipole moment per unit volume, the
magnitude of P is
P = ptotal / volume = Qpd / Ad = Qp / A
But Qp / A is the surface polarization charge density σp,
so P = σp
• Polarization is a vector and the above equation only gives its magnitude. For
the rectangular slab in Fig.7.5., the direction of P is normal to the surface. For
+σp (right face), it comes out from the surface and for -σp (left face), it is
directed into the surface. If Pnormal is the component of P normal to the surface
where the polarization charge density is σp, as shown in Fig.7.6, then,
Pnormal = σp
22. Local Field Eloc
• The electronic polarizability αe is related to relative permittivity εr by the
relation εr = 1 + Nαe / εo. Relative permittivity εr is a macroscopic property
while electronic polarizability αe is related to microscopic polarization
mechanisms. This equation assumes that the field acting on an individual
atom or molecule is the field E, which is assumed to be uniform within the
• However the induced polarization depends on the actual field experienced
by the molecule. But there are polarized molecules within the dielectic with
their negative and positive charges separated so that the field is not constant
on the atomic scale as we move through the dielectric. This is depicted in
• The field experienced by an individual molecule is actually different than E,
which represents the average field in the dielectric. As soon as the dielectric
becomes polarized, the field at some arbitrary point depends not only on the
charges on the plates (Q) but also on the orientations of all the other dipoles
around this point in the dielectric. When averaged over some distance, say a
thousand molecules, this field becomes E, as shown in Fig.7.7.
23. • The actual field experienced by a molecule in a dielectric is defined as the
local field and denoted by Eloc. It depends not only on the free charges on the
plates but also on the arrangement of all the polarized molecules around this
point. In evaluating Eloc we simply remove the molecule from this point and
calculate the field at this point coming from all sources, including neighbouring
polarized molecules as shown in Fig.7.7.
24. 7.2 Electronic Polarization: Covalent Solids
• When a field is applied to a solid substance, the constituent atoms or
molecules become polarized as shown in Fig.7.8. The electron clouds within
each atom becomes shifted by the field, and this gives rise to electronic
• This type of electronic polarization within an atom, however, is quite small
compared with the polarization due to the valence electrons in the covalent
bonds within the solid.
• For example, in crystalline silicon, there are electrons shared with
neighboring Si atoms in covalent bonds as shown in Fig.7.8. These valence
electrons form bonds (i.e. become shared) between the Si atoms because they
are already loosely bound to their parent atoms. Thus, they readily respond to
an applied field and become displaced.
• This type of electronic polarization, due to the displacement of electrons in
covalent bonds is responsible for the large dielectric constants of covalent
25. (a) Valence electrons in covalent bonds in the absence of an applied field.
(b) When an electric field is applied to a covalent solid, the valence electrons in the
covalent bonds are shifted very easily with respect to the positive ionic cores. The
whole solid becomes polarized due to the collective shift in the negative charge
distribution of the valence electrons.
26. 7.3 Polarization Mechanisms
In addition to electronic polarization, there are a number of other polarization
mechanisms such as:
1. Ionic polarization
2. Orientational (Dipolar) Polarization
3. Interfacial Polarization and
4. Total Polarization (which is the sum of electronic, ionic and dipolar)
27. Ionic Polarization
• This type of polarization occurs in ionic crystals such as NaCl, KCl and LiBr.
Ionic crystals have distinctly identifiable ions, ex, Na+ and Cl-, located at well
defined lattice sites, so each pair of oppositely charged neighboring ions has a
• As an example, we consider the one-dimensional NaCl crystal depicted as a
chain of alternating Na+ and Cl- ions as shown in Fig.7.9a. In the absence of
and applied field, the solid has no net polarization because the dipole moments
of equal magnitude are lined up head to head and tail to tail so that the net
dipole moment is zero. The dipole moment p+ in the positive direction has the
same magnitude as p- in the negative x direction, so the net dipole moment pnet
• In the presence of a field E along the x direction, however, the Cl- ions are
pushed in the –x direction and the Na+ ions in the +x direction about their
equilibrium positions. Consequently, the dipole moment p+ in the +x direction
increases to p'+ and the dipole moment p- decreases to p'- as shown in Fig.7.9b.
The net dipole moment, or the average dipole moment, per ion pair is now (p'+ -
p'-), which depends on the electric field E.
28. (a) A NaCl chain in the NaCl crystal without an applied field. Average or net dipole
moment per ion is zero.
(b) In the presence of an applied field the ions become slightly displaced which leads to
a net average dipole moment per ion.
29. Orientational (Dipolar) Polarization
• Certain molecules exhibit permanent dipole moments as discussed earlier. For
example HCl molecule shown in Fig.7.10a has a permanent dipole moment po
from the Cl- ion to the H+ ion.
• In the liquid or gas phases, these molecules, in the absence of an electric field,
are randomly oriented as a result of thermal agitation as shown in Fig.7.10b.
• When a electric field E is applied E tries to align the dipoles parallel to itself,
as depicted in Fig.7.10c. The Cl- and H+ charges experience forces in opposite
directions. But the nearly rigid bond between Cl- and H+ holds them together,
which means that the molecule experiences a troque τ about its center of mass.
• This torque acts to rotate the molecule to align po with E. If all the molecules
were to simply rotate and align with the field, the polarization of the solid
would be P = Npo
Where N is the number of molecules per unit volume.
• However, due to their thermal energy, the molecules move around randomly
and collide with each other and with the walls of the container. These collisions
destroy the dipole alignments. Thus the thermal energy tries to randomize the
orientations of the dipole moments.
30. • A snapshot of the dipoles in the material in the presence of a field can be
pictured in Fig.7.10d in which the dipoles have different orientations. There is,
never less, a net average dipole moment per molecule Pav that is finite and
directed along the field. Thus the material exhibits net polarization, which leads
to a dielectric constant that is determined by this orientational polarization.
31. • The term interfacial polarization arises because the positive charges
accumulating at the interface and the remainder of negative charges in the bulk
together constitute dipole moments that appear in the polarization vector P.
• Grain boundaries frequently lead to interfacial polarization as they can trap
charges migrating under the influence of an applied field, as indicated in
Fig.7.11c. Dipoles between the trapped charges increase the polarization vector.
(a) A crystal with equal number of mobile positive ions and fixed negative ions. In the absence of a field,
there is no net separation between all the positive charges and all the negative charges.
(b) In the presence of an applied field, the mobile positive ions migrate toward the negative charges and
positive charges in the dielectric. The dielectric therefore exhibits interfacial polarization.
(c) Grain boundaries and interfaces between different materials frequently give rise to interfacial
32. Total Polarization
• In the presence of electronic, ionic, and dipolar polarization mechanisms,
the average induced dipole moment per molecule will be the sum of all the
contributions in terms of the local field,
Pav = αeEloc + αiEloc + αdEloc
• Each effect adds linearly to the net dipole moment per molecule. Interfacial
polarization cannot be simply added to the above equation as it occurs at
interfaces and cannot be put into an average polarization per molecule in the
33. 7.4 Frequency Dependence: Dielectric Constant and Dielectric Loss
• The static dielectric constant is an effect of polarization under dc conditions.
When the applied field, or the voltage across a parallel plate capacitor, is a
sinusoidal signal, then the polarization of the medium under these ac conditions
leads to an ac dielectric constant that is generally different than the static case.
• Lets consider the orientation polarization involving dipolar molecules. The
sinusoidal varying field changes magnitude and direction continuously, and it
tries to line up the dipoles one way and then the other way and so on.
There are two factors opposing the immediate alignment of the dipoles with the
(i) First is that thermal agitation tries to randomize the dipole orientations.
Collisions, for example, aid the randomization of the dipole orientations.
(ii) Second, the molecules rotate in a viscous medium by virtue of their
interactions with neighbors, which is particularly strong in the liquid and
solid states and means that the dipoles cannot respond instantaneously to
the changes in the applied field.
34. Induced dipole
The dc field is suddenly changed from Eo to E at time t = 0. The induced dipole
moment p has to decrease from ad(0)Eo to a final value of ad(0)E. The decrease is
achieved by random collisions of molecules in the gas.
35. • If the field changes too rapidly, then the dipoles cannot follow the field and as
a consequence, remain randomly oriented. At high frequencies, therefore, αd
will be zero as the field cannot induce a dipole moment. At low frequencies, of
course, the dipoles can respond rapidly to follow the field and αd has its
• Suppose that after a prolonged application, corresponding to dc conditions,
the applied field across the dipolar gaseous medium is suddenly decreased from
Eo to E at a time we define as zero, as shown in Fig.7.12. The field E is smaller
than Eo, so the induced dc dipole moment per molecule should be smaller given
by αd(0)E where αd(0) is αd at ω = 0, dc conditions. Therefore the induced
dipole moment per molecule has to decrease, or relax from αd(0)Eo to αd(0)E.
• In a gas medium the molecules would be moving around randomly and their
collisions with each other and the walls of the container randomize the induced
dipole per molecule. Thus the decrease or the relaxation process, in the induced
dipole moment is achieved by random collisions. Assuming that τ is the average
time, called the relaxation time, between molecular collisions, then this is the
mean time it takes per molecule to randomize the induced dipole moment.
36. • At low frequencies the rate of relaxation (1/τ) is much faster than the
frequency of the field while at high frequencies the rate of relaxation (1/τ ) is
much slower than the frequency of the field.
• The dielectric constant is given by the relation:
εr = ε'r - jε''r
where ε'r is the real part and ε''r is the imaginary part, both being frequency
dependent as shown in Fig.7.13b. The real part ε'r decreases from its maximum
value to 1 at high frequencies while the imaginary part ε''r is zero at low and
high frequencies. The real part ε'r represents the relative permittivity i.e
delectric constant that we would use in calculating the capacitance, the
imaginary part ε''r represents the energy lost in the dielectric medium as the
dipoles are oriented against random collisions one way and then the other way
and so on by the field.
37. (a) An ac field is applied to a dipolar medium. The polarization P(P = Np) is out of phase with
the ac field.
(b) The relative permittivity is a complex number with real (r') and imaginary (r'')
parts that exhibit frequency dependence.
38. • Although we considered only orientational polarization, in general a dielectric
medium will also exhibit other polarization mechanisms and certainly
electronic polarization since there will always be electron clouds around
individual atoms, or electrons in covalent bonds. We can represent the general
features of the frequency dependence of the real and imaginary parts of the
dielectric constant as in Fig.7.15.
The frequency dependence of the real and imaginary parts of the dielectric constant in the
presence of interfacial, orientational, ionic, and, electronic polarization mechanisms.
39. Debye Equations and Cole-Cole Plots
The Debye equations reflect the behaviour of ε'r and ε''r as a function of
ε'r = εr∞ + εrdc - εr∞
1 + (ωτ)2
ε''r = (εrdc - εr∞) (ωτ)
1 + (ωτ)2
εr∞ is the relative permittivity (dielectric constant) at high frequencies.
εrdc is the static relative permittivity (dielectric constant)
ω is the frequency
τ is the relaxation time
The above equations reflect the behaviour of ε'r and ε''r as a function of
frequency as shown in Figure below and discussed earlier in Fig.7.13.
40. The above equations reflect the behaviour of ε'r and ε''r as a function of
frequency as shown in Figure below and discussed earlier in Fig.7.13.
41. Cole-Cole Plots:
• In dielectric studies of materials it is quite common to find a plot of the
imaginary part (ε''r) versus the real part (ε'r) as a function of frequency ω. Such
plots are called Cole-Cole plots after their originators. The Debye equations
provide the necessary values for ε'r and ε''r to be plotted for the present simple
dipolar relaxation mechanism that has only a single relaxation time τ. By
simply putting in τ = 1 second, we can calculate and plot ε''r versus ε'r for ω = 0
(dc) to ω → ∞ as shown in Fig. below. The result is a semicircle. For certain
substances like gases and certain liquids, the Cole-Cole plots generate a
semicircle, for many dielectrics, the circle is typically flattened and asymmetric,
and not a semicircle.
• The Cole-Cole plot is useful in several ways. Suppose for example that only a
part of the, dispersion is covered by the frequency range available, as is often
the case, then by drawing the best fitting arc of the Cole-CoIe plot one is able to
deduce, with an accuracy depending on the proportion of the total arc
determined, both the zero-frequency dielectric constant (ε'r) and the limiting
high-frequency value (ε''r), assuming that only one absorption occurs in the total
42. ε'r = εr∞ + εrdc - εr∞
1 + (ωτ)2
ε''r = (εrdc - εr∞) (ωτ)
1 + (ωτ)2
Cole-Cole plot is a plot of r vs. r as a function of frequency, . As the frequency is
changed from low to high frequencies, the plot traces out a circle if Debye equations
43. 7.6 Dielectric Strength and Insulation Breakdown
• The voltage across a dielectric material and hence the field within it cannot,
however be increased without limit. Eventually a voltage is reached that causes
a substantial current to flow between the electrodes, which appears as a short
between the electrodes and leads to what is called dielectric breakdown.
• In gaseous and many liquid dielectrics, the breakdown does not generally
permanently damage the material. This means that if the voltage causing
breakdown is removed, then the dielectric can again sustain voltages until the
voltage is sufficiently high to cause breakdown again. In solid dielectrics the
breakdown process is invariably leads to the formation of a permanent
conducting channel and hence to permanent damage.
• The dielectric strength Ebr is the maximum field that can be applied to an
insulating medium without causing dielectric breakdown. Beyond Ebr dielectric
breakdown takes place.
44. • The dielectric strength of solids depends on a number of factors besides
simply the molecular structure, such as the:
1. impurities in the material,
2. microstructural defects (e.g. microvoids, cracks),
3. sample geometry,
4. nature of the electrodes,
6. ambient conditions (e.g. humidity),
7. duration and frequency of the applied field
• Dielectric strength is different under dc and ac conditions. There are also
aging effects that slowly degrade the properties of the insulator and reduce the
45. Dielectric Breakdown and Partial Discharges: Gases
• Consider a gas between two charged plates connected to a field. The gas will
always have a few free electrons due to cosmic radiation. If the field is
sufficiently large, then one of these electrons can be accelerated to sufficiently
large kinetic energies to impact ionize a neutral gas molecule and produce an
additional free electron and a positively charged gas ion.
• Both the first and the liberated electrons are now available to accelerate in
the field again and further impact ionize more neutral gas molecules, and so on.
Thus, an avalanche of impact ionization processes creates many free electrons
and positive gas ions in the gas, which give rise to a discharge current between
• The breakdown in gases depends on the pressure. The concentration of gas
molecules is greater at higher pressures. This means the mean separation
between molecules and hence the mean free path of a free electron is shorter.
Shorter mean free paths inhibit the free electrons from accelerating to reach
impact ionization energies unless the field is increased. Thus, generally Ebr
increases with the gas pressure.
46. Corona and Partial Discharges:
(a) The field is greatest on the surface of the cylindrical conductor facing ground. If the voltage is
sufficiently large this field gives rise to a corona discharge.
(b) The field in a void within a solid can easily cause partial discharge.
(c) The field in the crack at the solid-metal interface can also lead to a partial discharge.
47. • A partial discharge occurs when only a local region of the dielectric is
exhibiting discharge, so the discharge does not directly connect the two
electrodes. For ex, the cylindrical conductor carrying a high voltage above a
grounded plate (Fig.7.25a) the electric field is greatest on the surface of the
conductor facing the ground. This field initiates discharge locally in this region
because the field is sufficiently high to give rise to an electron avalanche effect.
Away from the conductor, however the field is not sufficiently strong to
continue the electron avalanche discharge. This type of local discharge in high
field regions is termed corona discharge.
• Voids and cracks occurring within solid dielectrics and discontinuities at the
dielectric-electrode interface can also lead to partial discharges as the field in
these voids is higher than the average field in the dielectric and further the
dielectric strength in the gas in the void is less than that of the continuous solid
insulation. Fig.7.25b and c depict two examples of partial discharges occurring
in voids, one inside the solid (an air bubble introduced during the processing of
the dielectric) and the other (in the form of a crack) at the solid-electrode
48. Dielectric Breakdown: Liquids
•The process of breakdown in liquids is not as clearly understood as in gases.
Every liquid has some impurities with small conductive particles in
suspension, it is believed that these impurities coalesce end to end to form a
conducting bridge between the electrodes and thereby give rise to discharge.
• In some liquids, the discharge initiates as partial discharges in gas bubbles
entrapped in the liquid. These partial charges can locally raise the temperature
and vaporize more of the liquid and hence increase the size of the bubble.
Moisture (H2O which is polar) absorption and absorption of gases from the
ambient (polar gas molecules) also play a role in the breakdown.
49. Dielectric Breakdown: Solids
• There are various mechanisms that can lead to dielectric breakdown in solids.
Most of them depend on the dielectric materials condition and sometimes on
extrinsic factors such as the ambient conditions, moisture absorption being a
• The various dielectric breakdown mechanisms in solids are listed below:
1. Intrinsic Breakdown or Electronic Breakdown
2. Thermal Breakdown
3. Electromechanical Breakdown and Electrofracture
4. Internal Discharges
5. Insulation Ageing
6. External Discharges
50. 1. Intrinsic Breakdown or Electronic Breakdown:
• This is the most common type of dielectric breakdown. A free electron in the
conduction band (CB) of a dielectric in the presence of a large field can be
accelerated to sufficiently large energies to collide with and ionize a host atom
of the solid. The electron gains an energy eEbrℓ when it moves a distance ℓ
under an applied field Ebr. If this energy is greater than the bandgap energy Eg,
then the electron as a result of a collision with the lattice vibrations, can excite
an electron from the valence band to the conduction band, that is, break a bond.
• Both the primary and the released electron can further impact ionize other
host atoms and thereby generate an electron avalanche effect that leads to a
substantial current. The initial conduction electrons for the avalanche are either
present in the CB or are injected from the metal into the CB as a result of field-
assisted thermal emission from the Fermi energy in the metal to the CB in the
• If dielectric breakdown does not occur by an electron avalanche effect (due to
short mean free paths in the insulator), then another insulation breakdown
mechanism is the enormous increase in the injection of electrons from the metal
electrode into the insulator at very high fields as a result of field-assisted
51. 2. Thermal Breakdown
• Conduction and dielectric losses generate heat within a dielectric. If this heat
cannot be removed from the solid quickly by thermal conduction or other
means, then the temperature of the dielectric will increase. The increase in the
temperature invariably increases the conductivity of an insulator.
• The increase in the conductivity then leads to more Joule heating and hence
further rises in the temperature and so on. If the heat cannot be conducted away
to limit the temperature, then the result is a thermal runaway condition in which
the temperature and the current increase until a discharge occurs through
various sections of the solid.
• As a consequence of sample inhomogeneities, frequent thermal runaway is
severe in certain parts of the solid that become hot spots and suffer local
melting and physical and chemical erosion. Local breakdown at various hot
spots eventually leads to a conducting channel connecting the opposite
electrodes and hence to a dielectric breakdown.
52. 3. Electromechanical Breakdown and Electrofracture
• A dielectric medium between oppositely charged electrodes experiences
compressional forces because the opposite charges +Q and –Q on the plates
attract each other, as shown in Fig.7.26. As the voltage increases, so does the
compressive load, and the dielectric becomes squeezed, of the thickness d gets
An exaggerated schematic illustration of a soft dielectric medium experiencing strong
compressive forces to the applied voltage.
53. • At each stage, the increase in the compressive load is normally balanced by
the elastic deformation of the insulation to a new smaller thickness. However,
if the elastic modulus is sufficiently small, then compressive loads cannot be
simply balanced by the elastic modulus of the solid.
• Hence there is a mechanical runaway due to the following reasons. The
decrease in d, due to the compressive load, leads to higher field (E = V/d) and
also to more charges on the electrodes. This in turn leads to a greater
compressive load, which further decreases d, and so on, until the shear stresses
within the insulation cause the insulation to flow plastically. Eventually the
insulation breaks down.
• Another possibility is the initiation and growth of internal cracks by internal
stresses around inhomogeneous regions inside the dielectric. Combined effects
of both large shear stresses and large electric field eventually lead to crack
propagation and hence dielectric failure. This type of process is sometimes
54. 4. Internal Discharges
• These are partial discharges that take place in microstructural voids, cracks,
or pores within the dielectric where the gas atmosphere (usually air) has lower
dielectric strength. As explained earlier in dielectric breakdown in gases
(Fig.7.25) the discharge current in a void, such as those in Fig.7.25b and c, can
be easily sustained under ac conditions. Initially the pores size (or number of
pores) may be small and the partial discharge insignificant, but with time the
partial discharge erodes the internal surfaces of the void.
• Partial discharges can locally melt the insulator and can easily cause chemical
transformations. Eventually, an electrical tree type of discharge develops from
a partial discharge that has been eroding the dielectric as shown in Fig.7.27a for
a high voltage cable in which there is a tiny void at the interface between the
dielectric and the inner conductor.
• The erosion of the dielectric by the partial discharge propagates like a
branching tree. The “tree branches” are erosion channels (hollow filaments of
various sizes) in which gaseous discharge takes place and forms a conducting
channel during operation.
55. (a) A schematic illustration of electrical treeing breakdown in a high voltage coaxial cable
which was initiated by a partial discharge in the void at the inner conductor - dielectric
(b) A schematic diagram of a typical high voltage coaxial cable with semiconducting polymer
layers around the inner conductor and around the outer surface of the dielectric.
57. 5. Insulation Aging
• Aging is a term used to describe the deterioration in the properties of the
insulation. Aging therefore determines the useful life of the insulation. There
are many factors that either directly or indirectly affect the properties and
performance of an insulator in service:
1. Insulation will experience physical and chemical aging whereby its physical
and chemical properties change considerably, even in the absence of and
2. An insulation that is subjected to temperature and mechanical stress
variations can develop structural defects, such as microcracks.
3. Irradiation by ionizing radiation such as X-rays, exposure to severe ambient
conditions such as excessive humidity, ozone, etc.
4. Oxidation of a polymeric insulation with time is another form of chemical
• Chemical aging processes are generally accelerated with temperature.
Electrical trees develop as a result of electrical aging because, the ac field gives
rise to continual partial discharges in an internal or surface microcavity, which
then erodes the region around it and slowly grows like a branching tree as
shown in figure below.
58. Some typical water trees found in field aged cables. (Left: Trees in a cable with
tape and graphite insulation. Right: Trees in a cable with strippable insulation.)
59. 6. External Discharges
• There are many examples where the surface of the insulation becomes
contaminated by ambient conditions such as:
(a) Excessive moisture
(b) Deposition of pollutants
(c) Dirt and dust
(d) Salt spraying
• Eventually the contaminated surface develops sufficient conductance to allow
discharge between the electrodes at a field below the normal breakdown
strength of the insulator. This type of dielectric breakdown over the surface of
the insulation is termed surface tracking.
60. Relationship between the breakdown field and the time to breakdown.
• There are a number of dielectric breakdown mechanisms and the one that
causes eventual breakdown depends not only on the properties and quality of
the material but also on the operating conditions, environmental factors being
no less important.
Time to breakdown and the field at breakdown, Ebr, are interrelated and depend on the mechanism that causes
the insulation breakdown. External discharges have been excluded
61. 7.7 Capacitor Dielectric Materials
Selection criteria of dielectric materials for capacitors:
• Capacitance value
• Frequency of application
• Maximum tolerable loss
• Maximum working voltage
• Size and cost
C = εoεr A
Large capacitances can be achieved by using high εr dielectrics,
thin dielectrics, and large areas.
62. Examples of dielectrics that can be used for various capacitance values.
Examples of dielectrics that can be used in various frequency ranges.
63. (a) Single and multilayer ceramic capacitors:
Fig (a). shows a typical single layer
ceramic capacitor. The thin ceramic
disk or plate has suitable metal electrodes,
and the whole structure is encapsulated
in an epoxy by dipping it in a thermosetting
resin. The epoxy coating prevents moisture
from degrading the dielectric properties of
One way to increase the capacitance is
to connect N number of these in parallel,
and this is done in a efficient way by
using a multilayer ceramic structure as
shown in Fig (b).
64. (b) Polymeric film capacitors:
Fig.7.33 shows one arrangement by which a polymeric film capacitor can be
constructed. Two polymeric tapes having metallized electrodes (vacuum
deposited / coated Al) on one surface leaving a margin on one side. The two
tapes together are rolled up (like a Swiss-roll cake) and the opposite sides are
electroded using suitable conducting glue. Concept is similar to multilayer
ceramic capacitor except that the layers are rolled up to form a circular cross
Two polymer tapes in (a), each with a metallized film electrode on the surface (offset from
other), can be rolled together (like a Swiss roll) to obtain a polymer film capacitor as in (b).
As the two separate metal films are lined at opposite edges, electroding is done over the whole
65. (c) Electrolytic Capacitors
Electrolytic capacitors provide large values of capacitance while maintaining a
tolerable size. In aluminium electrolytic capacitors, the metal electrodes are two
Al foils, typically 50-100 µm thick, that are separated by a porous paper
medium soaked with a liquid electrolyte. The two foils together are wound into
a cylindrical form and held within a cylindrical case as shown in Fig.7.34. The
dielectric medium is the thin alumina Al2O3 layer grown on the roughened
surface of one of the foils as shown in Fig. 7.34b. This foil is then called the
anode. The capactive behavior is due to the Al/(Al2O3)/electrolyte structure.
66. Comparison of dielectrics for capacitor applications
Capacitor name Polypropylene Polyester Mica Aluminum, Tantalum, High-K ceramic
Dielectric Polymer film Polymer film Mica Anodized Al2O3 Anodized X7R
film Ta2O5 BaTiO3 base
r 2.2 – 2.3 3.2 – 3.3 6.9 8.5 27 2000
tand 4 10-4 4 10-3 2 10-4 0.05 - 0.1 0.01 0.01
Ebr (kV mm-1) DC 100 - 350 100 - 300 50 - 300 400 - 1000 300 - 600 10
d (typical minimum) 3 - 4 µm 1 µm 2 - 3 µm 0.1 µm 0.1 mm 10 µm
Cvol (µF cm-3) 2 30 15 7,500a 24,000a 180
Rp = 1/Gp; C = 1 mF; 400 kW 40 kW 800 kW 1.5 - 3 kW 16 kW 16 kW
Evol (mJ cm-3)b 10 15 8 1000 1200 100
Polarization Electronic Electronic and Ionic Ionic Ionic Large ionic
NOTES: Typical values. h = 3 assumed. The table is for comparison purposes only. Breakdown fields are typical DC values, and can
vary substantially, by at least an order of magnitude; Ebr depends on the thickness, material quality and the duration of the applied
voltage. a Proper volumetric calculations must also consider the volumes of electrodes and the electrolyte necessary for these
dielectrics to work; hence the number would have to be decreased. b Evol depends very sensitively on Ebr and the choice of h; hence
it can vary substantially. Polyester is PET, or polyehthylene terephthalate. Mica is potassium aluminosilicate, a muscovite crystal.
X7R is the name of a particular BaTiO3-based ceramic solid solution.
67. 7.8 Piezoelectricity, Ferroelectricity, and Pyroelectricity
• Certain crystals like quartz (crystalline SiO2) and BaTiO3, become polarized
when they are mechanically stressed. Charges appear on the surfaces of the
crystal as depicted in Fig.7.38a and b. Appearance of surface charges leads to a
voltage difference between the two surfaces of the crystal.
• The same crystals also exhibit mechanical strain or distortion when they
experience an electric field, as shown in Fig.7.38c and d. The direction of
mechanical deformation (expansion or compression) depends on the direction
of the applied field. The two effects are complementary and is know as
piezoelectricity. Only certain crystals exhibit piezoelectricity because the
phenomenon requires a crystal structure that has “no center of symmetry”
68. Crystals exhibiting center of symmetry
• Consider a NaCl type cubic unit cell (Fig.7.39a), this unit cell has a center of
symmetry at O because if we draw a vector from O to any charge and then draw
the reverse vector, we will find the same type of charge. When unstressed, the
center of mass of the negative charges at the corners of the unit cell coincides
with the positive charge at the center, as shown in Fig.7.39a. There is therefore
no net polarization in the unit cell and P = 0.
• Under stress the unit cell becomes strained as shown in Fig.7.39b, but the
center of mass of the negative charges still coincides with the positive charge
and the net polarization is still zero. Thus, the strained crystal still has P = 0.
• This result is generally true for all crystals that have a center of symmetry.
The centers of mass of negative and positive charges in the unit cell remain
coincident when the crystal is strained.
69. Crystals exhibiting center of symmetry
A NaCl-type cubic unit cell has a center of symmetry.
(a) In the absence of an applied force, the centers of mass for positive and negative
(b) This situation does not change when the crystal is strained by an applied force.
70. Crystals exhibiting no center of symmetry
• Piezoelectric crystals have no center of symmetry. For ex., the hexagonal unit
cell shown in Fig.7.40a exhibits no center of symmetry. If we draw a vector
from point O to any charge and then reverse the vector, we will find an opposite
charge. The unit cell is said to be noncentrosymmetric. When unstressed, as
shown in Fig.7.40a, the center of mass of the negative charges coincides with
the center of mass of the positive charges, both at O.
• However, when the unit cell is stressed as shown in Fig.7.40b, the positive
charge at A and the negative charge at B both become shifted and there is now
a net polarization P. Thus, an applied stress produces a net polarization P in
the unit cell, and in this case P appears to be in the same direction as the applied
stress, along y.
• Suppose Tj is the applied mechanical stress along some j direction and Pj is
the induced polarization along some i direction; then the two are linearly related
Pj = dij Tj
Where dij is the piezoelectric coefficient.
71. A hexagonal unit cell has no center of symmetry. (a) In the absence of an applied force the centers of
mass for positive and negative ions coincide. (b) Under an applied force along y the centers of mass for
positive and negative ions are shifted which results in a net dipole moment P along y. (c) When the force
is along a different direction, along x, there may not be a resulting net dipole moment in that direction
though there may be a net P along a different direction (y).
72. • Piezoelectric crystal are essentially electromechanical transducers
because they convert an electric field / signal to a mechanical strain, and
vice versa. They are used in many engineering applications like ultrasonic
transducers, microphones, accelerometers etc.
Piezoelectric transducers are widely used to generate ultrasonic waves in solids and also to
detect such mechanical waves. The transducer on the left is excited from an ac source and
vibrates mechanically. These vibrations are coupled to the solid and generate elastic waves.
When the waves reach the other end they mechanically vibrate the transducer on the right which
converts the vibrations to an electrical signal.
73. • It is clear that an important engineering factor in the use of piezoelectric
transducers is the electromechanical coupling between electrical and
mechanical energies. The electromechanical coupling factor k is defined in
terms of k2 by:
k2 = Electrical energy converted to mechanical energy
Input of electrical energy
or equivalently by
k2 = Mechanical energy converted to electrical energy
Input of mechanical energy
• Certain crystals are permanently polarized even in the absence of an
applied field. The crystals already possesses a finite polarization vector due
to the separation of positive and negative charges in the crystal. These crystals
are called ferroelectric.
• Barium titanate (BaTiO3) is probably the best example exhibiting
ferroelectricity. Above approximately 130oC, the crystal structure of BaTiO3 is
cubic as shown in Fig.7.44a. There is therefore no net polarization and P = 0.
Above 130oC, therefore barium titanate crystal exhibits no permanent
polarization and is not ferroelectric. However below 130oC, the structure of
barium titanate is tetragonal as shown in Fig.7.44c. The crystal is therefore
polarized by the separation of the centers of mass of the negative and positive
charges. The crystal possesses a finite polarization vector P and is
ferroelectric. The critical temperature at which ferroelectric property is lost, in
this case 130oC, is called the Curie temperature (TC)
• The nonlinear nature of ferroelectric materials can be used to make
capacitors with tunable capacitance.
75. BaTiO3 has different crystal structures above and below 130 C that lead to different dielectric
76. All ferroelectric crystals are also piezoelectric, but the reverse is not true:
not all piezoelectric crystals are ferroelectric
Piezoelectric properties of BaTiO3 below its Curie temperature.
• Pyroelectricity is the ability of certain materials to generate a temporary
voltage when they are heated or cooled. The change in temperature slightly
modifies the positions of the atoms within the crystal structure, such that the
polarization of the material changes. This polarization change gives rise to a
voltage across the crystal.
• Pyroelectric crystals are widely used as infrared detectors
The heat absorbed by the crystal increases the temperature by dT which induces a
change dP in the polarization. This is the pyroelectric effect. The change dP gives
rise to a change dV in the voltage which can be measured.