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A DC Hybrid Circuit Breaker With Ultra-Fast Contact Opening and


Integrated Gate-Commutated Thyristors (IGCTs)

Article  in  IEEE Transactions on Power Delivery · May 2006


DOI: 10.1109/TPWRD.2006.870981 · Source: IEEE Xplore

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646 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER DELIVERY, VOL. 21, NO. 2, APRIL 2006

A DC Hybrid Circuit Breaker With Ultra-Fast


Contact Opening and Integrated
Gate-Commutated Thyristors (IGCTs)
Jean-Marc Meyer and Alfred Rufer, Fellow, IEEE

Abstract—Air-magnetic circuit breakers are widely used for


short-circuit protection in dc electric railways or industrial plants.
The well-known drawbacks of these breakers are mainly a slow
breaking action, a short lifetime, and high maintenance costs
due to the destructive effects of the arc. The use of power semi-
conductors in a full-static circuit breaker configuration allows
the elimination of these disadvantages but is limited by excessive
conduction losses. The paper will present the study of a so-called
hybrid breaker, drawing its name from the combination of a
high-speed mechanical switch and a bi-directional integrated
gate-controlled thyristor assembly connected in parallel. The
paper also includes experimental results from a prototype real
scale.
Index Terms—Arcless interruption, fault current limiter, hybrid Fig. 1. Basic scheme of a dc railway system with a = transformers, b =
high-speed circuit breaker, integrated gate-controlled thyristor =
rectifiers, c circuit breakers, d=line short circuit, e = catenary, and f =
(IGCT), mechanical switch, metal-oxide varistor. vehicle with circuit breaker.

I. INTRODUCTION Power semiconductor devices provide a fast acting arcless


interruption with high reliability and reduced maintenance, but
M ODERN interconnected power networks lead to a
greater need for high-performance current-limiting
devices or circuit breakers (CBs). For this last category of
they suffer from high onstate losses and a low thermal capability
of the silicon wafers. As a result, large transient overcurrents or
equipment, the three basic requirements are the following: high-rated currents are not permitted even if effective cooling is
• large current handling capability during the conducting implemented.
state, without excessive losses; The integration of both mechanical breaker and static switch
• very fast transition from the conducting to the blocking allows a combination of the former’s current carrying function
state in case of a fault, without suffering any damaging and the latter’s high-speed arcless interrupting characteristic.
transient phenomena; In order to keep the benefits of static interruption, an ultra-fast
• large insulation level in the open state in order to block any contact opening is required.
current and bear the system voltage. During the last two decades, several solutions have been pro-
For dc networks, such as rail transport systems (Fig. 1), the posed in this context [1], including hybrid breakers with thyris-
CB must interrupt the fault current by building up a counter tors [2], [3] or gate turnoff thyristors (GTOs) [4]. The recent
voltage. Moreover, the energy trapped in the line must be ab- venue of the integrated gate-controlled thyristor (IGCT), with
sorbed by the breaker itself. its new performance standards, opens up new perspectives in
Classical mechanical CBs have a very small contact resis- the field of hybrid switching techniques.
tance (a few micro-ohms) in the closed position, and represent In this paper, an innovative hybrid solution is presented,
a galvanic separation in the open state. However, these devices where the main functions and especially the fast opening speed
have a long reaction time due to the need of blowing the arc have been verified. Even when the realization as an industrial
in a chute. Arc occurrence leads to contact erosion and, conse- product could be really expected, some specific considerations
quently, a short lifetime and high maintenance costs. are still necessary to define the compatibility with actual stan-
dards. In fact, the opening delay time of classical breakers leads
Manuscript received March 7, 2002; revised June 15, 2005. This work was to huge short-circuit current values which have lead into the
supported in part by Sécheron SA, Geneva, Switzerland, and in part by the Swiss today specified breaking capabilities, over the 100-kA limit,
Commission on Technology and Innovation. Paper no. TPWRD-00111-2002.
J.-M. Meyer is with ABB Schweiz AG, Turgi CH-5300, Switzerland (e-mail: that are not compatible with the use of semiconductor devices
jean-marc.meyer@ch.abb.com). for opening or diverting such currents.
A. Rufer is with the Industrial Electronics Laboratory, Ecole Polytech- However, the considerable increase of the opening velocity
nique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL), Lausanne CH-1015, Switzerland
(e-mail: alfred.rufer@epfl.ch). makes the presented solution a good candidate for fast and se-
Digital Object Identifier 10.1109/TPWRD.2006.870981 lective protection. Its intrinsic safety can be reached by addi-
0885-8977/$20.00 © 2006 IEEE
MEYER AND RUFER: DC HYBRID CB WITH ULTRA-FAST CONTACT OPENING 647

Fig. 2. Basic configuration of the proposed solution.

tional fuses that, of course, only intervene when the new hybrid
system fails.

II. PROPOSED SOLUTION


Based on these considerations, a new hybrid CB has been
defined. It consists of a mechanical switch and a bidirectional
static cell with two high power IGCTs connected in parallel,
four diodes in a rectifier scheme, and a metal–oxide varistor
(MOV) element, as described in Fig. 2. The diode bridge config-
uration allows this breaker to be used for both current directions Fig. 3. Main waveforms during the opening sequence of the IGCT hybrid
in dc systems, eventually in ac applications. breaker.
The turn-on phenomenon of the hybrid solution corresponds
to a very simple sequence, where the static cell (the semiconduc-
tors) can be normally turned on by the normal IGCT gate-con-
trol unit, followed by the closing of the mechanical part. After
that, the IGCT current commutates automatically to the closed
mechanical contact, because of its lower impedance.
In the on status, the usual load current is carried by the
mechanical switch. In case of a short circuit, a fault-detecting Fig. 4. Typical reaction time for semiconductors and mechanical breakers.
unit (not represented in Fig. 2) produces an opening signal for
the moving contact and, at the same time, a turn-on signal for
III. ULTRA-FAST CONTACT OPENING
the IGCTs. Contact separation occurs after a reaction time .
Section III will describe the principle of an ultra-fast contact The reaction time and opening speed of the moving contact
opening. must be optimized in order to keep the hybrid principle valuable.
Then, a small arc discharge is drawn between the contacts Fig. 4 shows the limitations of mechanic contact opening time
after separation and an arc voltage appears. This arc voltage acts regarding the semiconductor’s commutation performances.
as a commutation voltage in the circuit comprising the diodes The rapid generation and transmission to the moving parts of
and and also the two IGCTs and . The current is a large actuating force are the main factors limiting the opening
rapidly and totally directed to the power-electronic path. This speed. The ironless Thomson actuator is an efficient solution to
commutation phenomenon is described in Section IV. reach as short an opening delay as possible.
Due to the magnitude of the commutation, the arc voltage Intheproposedsolution,adoublecontactconfigurationisused.
is negligible in comparison with the operating voltage . The Two main forces are applied on the moving contact (Fig. 5):
commutation phenomenon is only represented in Fig. 3 by the • constant closing force , needed to reduce the
current fall in the contacts and current rise in the IGCT contact’s resistance in the onstate;
during the commutation interval . The arc voltage • strong and impulsive opening force (peak
during this interval is shown in Fig. 8. value).
After a time , when the distance between the contacts is The closing force is obtained by an electromagnet/perma-
sufficient (total recovery of the dielectric strength), the IGCTs nent-magnet combination as represented in Fig. 6. Energizing
interrupt the fault current upon receiving a turnoff signal. En- the electromagnet coil during a few seconds, attracts the iron
ergy remaining in the circuit is absorbed by the MOV, which core. This magnetizes the permanent magnet, keeping the
also acts as an overvoltage arrester. The interruption itself will moving contact in its closed position with a constant force
be described in Section V. The full opening sequence is repre- . A 1- to 2-mm air gap remains between the iron
sented in Fig. 3. The time from the short-circuit detection core and the permanent magnet, depending on the contact’s
to current limitation is less than 300 s. surface state.
648 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER DELIVERY, VOL. 21, NO. 2, APRIL 2006

TABLE I
MAIN CHARACTERISTICS OF THE THOMSON DRIVE

Fig. 5. Opening and closing forces.

Fig. 6. Opening and closing mechanism.

Fig. 8. Arc voltage and IGCT currents during commutation.

Fig. 9. Commutation loop with stray inductances.

copper disk to the moving contact. The oscillations correspond


Fig. 7. Primary coil current and opening force for the Thomson drive ( =
=
simulations; 3 practical results).
to a proper frequency of the mechanical parts [5].
The overall characteristics of the Thomson drive with a planar
coil are resumed in Table I.
The opening force is generated by an electrodynamic drive A special cellular foam is used as a damping element in order
(Fig. 6). This linear actuation mechanism is based on the to absorb the kinetic energy of the moving parts when they reach
Thomson effect. It consists of a primary fixed winding made their open-state position. Two springs keep the contact opened,
of an extremely thin and compact planar coil manufactured by avoiding an undesired reclosure after its opening.
means of printed board techniques, and a secondary moving
“winding” consisting of a massive copper disk. These two
IV. COMMUTATION PRINCIPLE
windings are placed in a coaxial configuration. The discharge
of an electrolytic capacitor bank in the primary coil generates Due to the inherent mechanical time delay between the
a circulating current and, as a consequence, a very strong opening of the two individual contacts, the arc voltage appears
induced current in the secondary disk. The primary and sec- in two steps, with each individual arc voltage value
ondary currents flow in opposite directions, creating a strong (Fig. 8).
electrodynamics repulsion applied to the moving contact. The current commutation time from mechanical contact
This actuator has been simulated and optimized by means of to power electronics depends on the following parameters:
finite-element analysis software. • arc voltage ;
Fig. 7 shows the simulations and practical results for the pri- • time delay ;
mary current and opening force . The force is measured • equivalent inductance of the commutation loop circuit
with a piezoelectric measuring device, placed directly on the , with (Fig. 9)
moving contact. A 100- s time delay between current and force
can be observed, as well as an oscillation phenomenon. The time (1)
delay is due to the mechanical transmission of the force from the
MEYER AND RUFER: DC HYBRID CB WITH ULTRA-FAST CONTACT OPENING 649

• onstate equivalent characteristic of the semiconductors


and (linear approximation), with (Fig. 9)

(2)
and

(3)

The arc voltage depends on the used contact material, contact


geometry, current intensity, pressure, and gas environment. If Fig. 10. Symmetrical cabling of power devices.
the contacts operate in an air environment at atmospheric pres-
sure, it is not possible to reduce the commutation time by in-
creasing the arc voltage.
The best way for shortening is to reduce the induc-
tance . So, a low-inductive assembly was designed with
. Moreover, power devices with low onstate
voltage are chosen: the equivalent voltage drops on the semi-
conductors (two diodes in series with two paralleled IGCTs) is
below 5 V at 5 kA.
As a result, the commutation of 5 kA is achieved in
less than 60 s. A short arcing time is required to reduce energy Fig. 11. Onstate characteristics of two IGCTs.
dissipation in the arc plasma and to keep a good dielectric char-
acteristic of the heated gas between the contacts.
storage time is very short and well defined (
ns).
V. SILICON CONDUCTION AND TURNOFF Controlling the two devices with the same logic signal is suf-
ficient to provide good turnoff behavior of the assembly.
After current commutation and arc extinction, the totality of
the fault current flows through the semiconductor path. A con-
duction time is required to reach a sufficient VI. PRACTICAL RESULTS
distance between the contacts. During , the temperature The full interruption sequence of the hybrid breaker has been
of the post-arc gas decreases, allowing recovery of the dielec- verified on a real-scale prototype. A test circuit supplies a half
tric strength [6]. If the IGCTs are turned off before this recovery, oscillation current to the hybrid breaker by discharging a capac-
the arc reignites because of the voltage rise at the MOV termi- itor through a reactor (Fig. 12).
nals and stands between the contacts. For safety reasons, it is The peak value of the first half wave can be controlled by
recommended to increase in order to avoid continuous acting on the charging voltage of the capacitor. All of the con-
reignition. A value of 100 s has been chosen. trol and gating signals are generated by a PC and a field-pro-
During the conducting state, a current imbalance close to 10% grammable gate array (FPGA) board.
can be observed (Fig. 8). Consequently, with two IGCTs charac- A first gating signal is sent to the thyristor , and the
terized by kA (snubberless), the turnoff capability of current begins to increase in the moving contact. After 1 ms,
the two paralleled devices will be 5.7 kA. Differences between an opening signal is sent to the Thomson drive. During the
the circuit inductances ( , ), and different onstate volt- reaction time , the IGCTs are turned on by the signals
ages of the IGCTs can explain this problem of current sharing and . Commutation occurs and after a sufficient conduction
[7]. The connections between the static cell elements (all of the time , the IGCTs are turned off. The control signals are
MOVs, diodes, or IGCTs are in press-pack) have been designed represented in Fig. 13.
in order to obtain a symmetrical structure (Fig. 10). Fig. 14 shows the durations of the different phases through the
If the sharing problem were due to the stray anode induc- opening sequence. These durations are summarized in Table II.
tances, the imbalance would decrease after the slope changes. The total time does not exceed 350 s. The “arcing time”
Instead of that, the imbalance increases after arc extinction. depends on the energy stored in the reactor. Fig. 15 shows
Therefore, it has to be due to a difference between the onstate the currents and voltages for the two IGCTs connected in par-
characteristic of each IGCT (Fig. 11). The matching of compo- allel. Apart from a high-frequency oscillation (due to the stray
nents can easily solve this problem. capacitance of MOV and amplified by the Rogowski coil and
The IGCT has first been used in series connection for a fre- the voltage probe), the current waveforms are almost superim-
quency converter Hz- Hz. Due to the very sharp posed during the turnoff process. The varistor voltage is limited
and homogenous hard turnoff operation characteristics, a par- to 2.5 kV, but this value can be increased up to
allel connection is possible without any special precautions. The (repetitive peak offstate voltage of the IGCTs).
650 IEEE TRANSACTIONS ON POWER DELIVERY, VOL. 21, NO. 2, APRIL 2006

TABLE II
DURATIONS VALUES

Fig. 12. Test setup scheme.

Fig. 15. Turnoff waveforms.

Fig. 16. Realized prototype.


Fig. 13. Full opening sequence with control signals.

VII. CONCLUSION AND EXPECTED DEVELOPMENTS


A new concept of a hybrid CB has been studied and developed
on the base of a combination of high-performance semiconduc-
tors (IGCTs) and of a fast-opening bypass mechanical switch.
A first prototype has been realized for verification purpose for
a 4-kA/1.5-kV operating condition. The main progress against
classical solutions is the strong reduction of the opening time
that is in the range of 300 s. This important aspect makes the
solution a good candidate for selective interruption.
The operation of the hybrid solution has been validated from
the point of view of the design of the fast mechanical part.
A main component of this part is the fast electrodynamics
Thomson drive using a planar coil. The complete assembly can
be seen in the photo of Fig. 16.
The performances of this drive in terms of opening force have
been verified, as well as the commutation phenomena from gal-
Fig. 14. Opening sequence with phases durations. vanic contact to semiconductors. The turnoff waveforms of the
MEYER AND RUFER: DC HYBRID CB WITH ULTRA-FAST CONTACT OPENING 651

IGCTs and the load-current fall due to the MOV voltage have [7] P.-O. Jeannin, M. Akhbari, and J.-L. Schanen, “Influence of stray in-
been described by simulation and verified experimentally. ductances on current sharing during switching transitions in paralleled
semiconductors,” in Proc. EPE, Lausanne, Switzerland, Sep. 1999, pp.
One of the limiting factors of the presented technology will 1–10.
be the relationship between the installed energy absorption ca-
pacity of the MOV-element, and the stored energy in the input
or output circuitry and apparatus.
Because the main goal of this study focuses on the current Jean-Marc Meyer was born in Fribourg, Switzer-
interruption, a more specific design of the MOV element must be land, on September 20, 1969. He received the M.Sc.
done as a function of the parameters of the definitive application. degree in electrical engineering and the Ph.D. degree
from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lau-
Another not addressed item is the galvanic separation after sanne, Switzerland, in 1995 and 2000, respectively.
opening that can easily be reached with an additional contact From 1995 to 2000, he was a Research Assistant
that can be opened under no load. with the Industrial Electronics Laboratory. His
research focuses on the electromechanical circuit
Real operation conditions with extended specifications such breakers and low-ripple power-factor-corrected
as “turn-on into a fault” must also be tested. rectifier. In 2000, he began his professional career
with ABB, Turgi, Switzerland. At ABB, he is active
as a Development Engineer in the field of drives and power electronics.
REFERENCES
[1] A. M. S. Atmadji and J. G. J. Sloot, “Hybrid switching: A review of
current literature,” in Proc. IEEE EMPD, vol. 2, 1998, pp. 683–688.
[2] P. Collart and S. Pellichero, “A new high speed DC circuit breaker: The
DHR,” in Inst. Elect. Eng. Colloq. Electronic-Aided Current-Limiting Alfred Rufer (SM’01–F’05) was born in Diessbach,
Circuit Breaker—Developments Applications, Dig.: 1989/137. Switzerland, in 1951. He received the M.Sc. degree
[3] J. Zyborski, J. Piotrowski, and S. Hasan, “Circuit breaker protection for from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Lau-
AC line commutated thyristor converter,” in Proc. 7th Int. Power Elec- sanne (EPFL) in 1976.
tronics Motion Control Conf., vol. 3, Budapest, Hungary, Sep. 1996. In 1978, he began his professional career with
[4] T. Genji, O. Nakamura, M. Isozaki, M. Yamada, T. Morita, and M. ABB, Turgi, Switzerland, where he worked in power
Kaneda, “400 V class high-speed current limiting circuit breaker for electronics and control, such as high-power variable
electric power system,” IEEE Trans. Power Del., vol. 9, no. 3, pp. frequency converters for drives. In 1985, he was a
1428–1435, Jul. 1994. Group Leader for power electronics development
[5] J. Czucha and M. Pikon, “Some aspects of ultra fast contact opening at with ABB. Currently, he is Professor and Head of
current interruption by a hybrid circuit breaker,” in Proc. 32nd Universi- the Industrial Electronics Laboratory at the EPFL.
ties Power Engineering Conf., vol. 1, Manchester, U.K., Sep. 1997, pp. He is the author of several patents and publications on modulation and control
166–169. methods and power electronics. More recently, specific developments and
[6] K. Tsuruta and H. Ebara, “Modeling of gas temperature decay after arc research have been done at EPFL’s LEI in the domains of multilevel converters,
discharge in small air gaps,” IEEE Trans. Elect. Insul., vol. 2, no. 3, pp. as well as for applications using supercapacitors and other energy storage
451–456, Jun. 1992. means.

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