Electric Arc Flash

Electric Arc Flash

Electric Arc Flash


An arc flash is the light and heat produced from an electric arc supplied with sufficient electrical energy to cause substantial damage, harm, fire, or injury. Electrical arcs experience negative incremental resistance, which causes the electrical resistance to decrease as the arc temperature increases. Therefore, as the arc develops and gets hotter the resistance drops, drawing more and more current (runaway) until some part of the system melts, trips, or evaporates, providing enough distance to break the circuit and extinguish the arc. Electrical arcs, when well controlled and fed by limited energy, produce very bright light, and are used in arc lamps (enclosed, or with open electrodes), for welding, plasma cutting, and other industrial applications. Welding arcs can easily turn steel into a liquid with an average of only 24 DC volts. When an uncontrolled arc forms at high voltages, and especially where large supply-wires or high-amperage conductors are used, arc flashes can produce deafening noises, supersonic concussive-forces, super-heated shrapnel, temperatures far greater than the Sun's surface, and intense, high-energy radiation capable of vaporizing nearby materials.

Arc flash temperatures can reach or exceed 35,000 °F (19,400 °C) at the arc terminals. The massive energy released in the fault rapidly vaporizes the metal conductors involved, blasting molten metal and expanding plasma outward with extraordinary force.[2] A typical arc flash incident can be inconsequential but could conceivably easily produce a more severe explosion (see calculation below). The result of the violent event can cause destruction of equipment involved, fire, and injury not only to an electrical worker but also to bystanders. During the arc flash, electrical energy vaporizes the metal, which changes from solid state to gas vapor, expanding it with explosive force. For example, when copper vaporizes it suddenly expands by a factor of 67,000 times in volume.

In addition to the explosive blast, called the of such a fault, destruction also arises from the intense radiant heat produced by the arc. The metal plasma arc produces tremendous amounts of light energy from far infrared to ultraviolet. Surfaces of nearby objects, including people, absorb this energy and are instantly heated to vaporizing temperatures. The effects of this can be seen on adjacent walls and equipment - they are oftenablated and eroded from the radiant effects.

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