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12.8: Insulator Breakdown Voltage

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    Once current is forced through an insulating material, breakdown of that material’s molecular structure has occurred. After breakdown, the material may or may not behave as an insulator any more, the molecular structure having been altered by the breach. There is usually a localized “puncture” of the insulating medium where the electrons flowed during breakdown.

    Thickness of an insulating material plays a role in determining its breakdown voltage, otherwise known as dielectric strength. Specific dielectric strength is sometimes listed in terms of volts per mil (1/1000 of an inch), or kilovolts per inch (the two units are equivalent), but in practice it has been found that the relationship between breakdown voltage and thickness is not exactly linear. An insulator three times as thick has a dielectric strength slightly less than 3 times as much. However, for rough estimation use, volt-per-thickness ratings are fine.



    • With a high enough applied voltage, electrons can be freed from the atoms of insulating materials, resulting in current through that material.
    • The minimum voltage required to “violate” an insulator by forcing current through it is called the breakdown voltage, or dielectric strength.
    • The thicker a piece of insulating material, the higher the breakdown voltage, all other factors being equal.
    • Specific dielectric strength is typically rated in one of two equivalent units: volts per mil, or kilovolts per inch.

    12.8: Insulator Breakdown Voltage is shared under a GNU Free Documentation License 1.3 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Tony R. Kuphaldt via source content that was edited to conform to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.