A novel contact opening mechanism has been developed using a piezoelectric actuator to open the contacts in a low contact opening velocity circuit breaker. The arc control on the contacts is critical for successful current interruption (10/sup 3/-10/sup 4/ A) in low voltage (<250V) devices. Previous work has shown how arc root commutation from the contact region into the arc chamber is affected by arc chamber materials, contact materials and the gap behind the moving contact for contact velocities between 1ms/sup -1/ and 10ms/sup -1/. This work is extended using a commercially available piezoelectric actuator to open the contacts. Contact opening speeds are assessed and the arc root mobility is characterized under this operating regime. A flexible test apparatus and solid-state high-speed arc imaging system are used to gather data on the arc root during the opening of the contacts. New experimental results are presented on the anode and cathode root velocity and arc root motion in an arc chamber with piezoelectrically actuated contact opening. These results can be used to improve the design of high current low voltage circuit breakers suitable for piezoelectric actuation
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