Institut für Energietechnik (IET)

Arc & plasma physics

Electrical arcs appear when electric current flows through the ionized gas between two electrodes. The gas is heated to temperatures above 10000 K, which is sufficient to dissociate and ionize the gas molecules, thereby creating a conducting Plasma.

Simulation of electrical arcs – how do they extinguish? (German only)

The simplest computational model for an arc requires the coupling of a compressible flow solver for the gas dynamics with an electromagnetic solver. The electric conductivity of the plasma, which depends strongly on pressure and temperature, is responsible for the coupling between the electromagnetic fields and the gas flow.

The elevated temperature of the electric arc leads to numerous computational challenges. The flow is highly compressible and has to be computed using complex real gas properties. Radiation is the main mechanism of heat transfer and needs to be accurately modeled. Finally, the interaction of the arc with the electrodes leads to contact erosion and contamination of the plasma with metal vapor.

Modern Software for Arc Simulations

The need for a robust and easy-to-use tool for plasma simulations is well recognized in industry. We have started a collaboration with Siemens PLM software to develop STAR-CCM+ into an optimal tool for arc simulations in industrial research, without the need to couple different codes. An example of a simple low-voltage circuit breaker has been simulated as a proof-of-concept; a report is available for download along with a corresponding video.

The project was completed with a simulation of a realistic low voltage switch; the results are summarized in a blog (Circuit breakers, thunders and the challenges of multiphysics) and presented in a short Video.

We are currently looking for early adopters of the code. Please get in touch with us if you are interested in performing arc simulations with a modern tool. We will be happy to check if your simulation requirements are met by STAR-CCM+, and if your specific models are implementable in STAR-CCM+.


Henrik Nordborg
Oberseestrasse 10
8640 Rapperswil SG
+41 (0)58 257 43 70