Over the last 20 years "composite" insulators have been increasingly used in high voltage applications as an alternative traditional materials. More recently, polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) have been used as weather sheds on these composite insulators. The main attraction with PDMS is that the surface hydrophobicity can be recovered following pollution or surface discharges. Among the possible mechanisms for recovery the most likely is the migration of low molecular weight silicone oil (LMWS) from the bulk to the surface encapsulating pollutant particles. Although it is widely recognised that the migration of LMWS is the cause of this recovery of hydrophobicity, the mechanism of what actually occurs is not well understood. It is also not known for how long this process will continue. The main objective of this study program was to gain improved understanding of the surface hydrophobic recovery process that is unique to polydimethlysiloxane high-voltage insulators. Fundamental knowledge of this mechanism has been increased through the development of the Contact Angle DRIFT Electrostatic Deposition (CADED) novel analytical technique. This technique enabled study of the degradation of silicone elastomers subjected to high voltage environments by closely following LMWS migration from the bulk material to the surface and linking it to the contact angle measurements. The migration rate data showed that the aged material recovered faster that the virgin material. Differences in the rate and maximum surface levels of silicone were seen between materials from different manufacturers. This has significant implications for the life-time of these materials A model system has been developed to examine LMWS diffusion through the bulk material and into the interface of surface and pollutant. This was achieved by examining theoretical and empirically derived equations and using existing experimental data to better understand the mechanism of recovery. This diffusion was Fickian in the initial stages of recovery. X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) and contact angle measurements were used to substantiate the degree of degradation in in-field silicone insulators by quantifying the levels of the major degradation products: silica and silica-like material and alumina
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