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New Technology to Trap Killer Sparks

General Electric engineers invent an arc-flash absorber that can consume 5000 amperes and trip in mere microseconds

3 min read

4 March 2009—On the morning of 14 April 2006, an engineer was working on a 480-volt disconnect switch in the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, in New York, when a blinding flash of heat and light left him seriously burned. The cause, an electrical hazard called arc flash, rattled the lab and set off a chain of investigations.

The engineer was lucky to escape with just first- and second-degree burns on his face, chest, arms, and hands. Arc flash is an explosion that happens when the electrical resistance of air breaks down, connecting conductors with an arc of hot plasma. The temperature of an arc can exceed four times the surface temperature of the sun, and a 10 000 ampere arc at 480 V packs the equivalent power of about eight sticks of dynamite.

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Greg Mably


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