Finitedifference simulation of an electrical discharge in water
James W. Robinson
Citation: J. Appl. Phys. 44, 76 (1973); doi: 10.1063/1.1661944
View online: http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/1.1661944
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Finitedifference simulation of an electrical discharge in water
James W. Robinson
Department of Electrical Engineering, The Pennsylvania State University University Park, Pennsylvania 16802
(Received 7 July 1972)
The growth of an electrical discharge channel in water has been simulated by a finitedifference solution
of the partial differential equations of motion along with the descriptive equations of the medium. The
computation is based upon a set of parameters which describe experimentally controllable conditions.
Close agreement is obtained between simulations and experiments by adjusting arbitrary parameters
included in the description of the medium. However, the simulation is relatively insensitive to these
parameters.
I. INTRODUCTION
Numerous studies of highcurrent underwater discharges have been conducted, some oriented toward
practical application and some toward description of
the phenomena which occur. This paper deals with a
finitedifference method of solving the general set of
equations for a discharge in such a way that experimentally observed characteristics may be simulated. An
algorithm has been developed to calculate characteristics in terms of input data derived from experimentally
controllable parameters.
Publications dealing with the basic characteristics of
discharges include those by Martinl and Robinson,2 who
describe experimental studies of capacitor discharges
through 0.025 mm tungsten wires in water, the plasma
consisting mainly of ionized water. Sherk3 observed
radiation for discharges in water at much lower energy
levels such that the plasma was primarily ionized metal. Skvortsov et al. 4 and Roi and Frolov5 have studied
discharges where no wires were used. They were particularly concerned with the hydrodynamic effects of the
shock wave. Fedchenko and II 'yenk0 6 were concerned
with developing a mathematical model based on the
minimumentropy principle, which presumes constant
transport coefficients. However, Prigogine indicates
that such procedures can lead to very inappropriate
conclusions. 7 McGrath has considered scaling relations
for the shock wave. 8 Arsent 'yev9 has analytically obtained working formulas in terms of the time derivative
of electric power supplied to the plasma. He makes
numerous simplifying assumptions based on experimental data and he omits the pinch effect.
Another important facet of the work is the description
of the medium in which the discharge takes place. This
includes formulation of an equation of state and equations for electrical and thermal conductivity .
The model is based upon a capacitor discharge through
a fine wire in water, the wire being related to the initial conditions for the iterative solution. The onedimenSional Lagrangian equations of motion in cylindrical
coordinates are mOdified and extended to include the
various effects mentioned above. The medium itself is
described by equations which are sometimes justifiable
in terms of measured properties of water and sometimes arbitrary. Nevertheless, the equations do describe a hypothetical medium which can be used to illustrate the modeling process. In addition, if the model is
to be true to observed phenomena, then restrictions
must be imposed upon the description of the medium,
these serving as a means of establishing certain properties of the medium. The model as developed allows
the simulation of plasma growth for a wide variety of
experimentally controllable parameters.
II. ITERATIVE EOUATIONS
The basic formulation of the model starts from the
Lagrangian equations of motion, with reference to
Richtmyer and Morton. 14 The basic set of equations is
ow = (VoR)a(p+Q)
at '" r
or
oR
(1)
a;:=W,
V=
Various applications have been found for discharges in
liquids. Electrical discharge machining is a common
industrial operation and other applications include deepwater sounding as reported by Wright. 10 Fuses, now
obsolete, may consist of a long wire immersed in oil. 11
Oilwell drilling has been attempted but apparently without much success .12 The underwater discharge is an efficient source of uv radiation. 13
(momentum),
(2)
(voR) oR
r
or'
(3)
M,J,B
R='k
i,e
)
W
w=o
,d;/dt
M,J,B
R='k
i,e
The partial differential equations which are descriptive
of the growth of the plasma column are nonlinear and
involve several interacting phenomena. This paper
deals with a general treatment of the growth process
through iterative solution of the equations, rather than
through analytic approximations. One facet of the work
is the development of a model sufficiently general to incorporate the various features, such as energy transfer,
shockwave generation, magnetic pinch pressure, electriccircuit parameters, and geometrical parameters.
FIG. 1. DiviSion of spacetime grid for finitedifference
simulation. Variables are evaluated at intersections as labeled.
76
Copyright 1973 American Institute of Physics
J. Appl. Phys., Vol. 44, No.1, January 1973
n'~~
")
w=o
kI
q,dijdt
76
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77
77
James W. Robinson: Simulation of an electrical discharge in water
au
av
=(P+Q)at
at
(energy),
(4)
where the symbols are defined as follows: R is the location of mass point originally at r when time t = 0; W is
the velocity of mass point; P is the pressure; u is the
specific internal energy; v is the specific volume; Q is
the artificial viscosity; subscript zero in Vo refers to
undisturbed medium, and T is the temperature.
If aw/ar>o, then Q is zero. Otherwise,
Q=4(l:ir)2ea~r/v,
(5)
Equation (4) must be extended by the addition of terms
to account for heat transfer and the electrical driving
function. The following terms are added:
(6)
where e is axial electric field, a is electrical conductivity, and 1] is thermal conductivity including the effects of radiative transfer as well as kinetic conduction.
An acceleration term is added to Eq. (1),
a=JBv,
The difference equations are derived from Eqs. (1)(7)
and are centered wherever possible. However, they are
kept in explicit form and hence yield quantities with index n + 1 directly. The equations are evaluated in order
listed for values j = 1, 2, ... , k 1.
Let A(l:ij) represent A(j +1) A(j) and let P +Q be given
by n. Then velocity is found from
where the definition is meaningful only in terms of
some specified grid space l:ir.
V(V R e1]V R T)+ae2v,
terval was 0.5 nsec. With these choices of mesh size,
execution time on a relatively slow timeshared computer was 30 min for 1 jlsec of plasma development.
(7)
to include magnetic pinch effect, where J is axial current density and B is azimuthal field.
Skin effect may influence the behavior of the discharge.
Bennett'5 has defined a critical time t2 for the establishment of a uniform current distribution in an exploding wire. Typical values of t2 for the plasmas being
simulated range from 0.1 to 1 p.sec, the critical time
increasing as the square of the radius. The skin effect
is ignored in this report as attempts to include it in the
computational procedure led to uncontrollable numerical instability. Note, however, that the effect may be
less significant than Bennett's parameter indicates.
This is because the current density is found to be a
slowly varying function of time; the total current increases rapidly, but so does the crosssectional area.
Bennett's parameter is based on a ramp current with a
fixed area such that current density increases rapidly.
The model equations are solved by a digital iteration on
a spacetime grid as illustrated in Fig. 1. From the
quantities identified with index n, corresponding quantities are evaluated at n + 1. The symbol M identifies the
characteristics of the medium, including P , T , u , v , a ,
and 1]. In the righthand frame, q and i represent capacitor charge and current. The space increment has been
chosen small in the region of the origin where resolution is needed, yet large at a distance from the origin.
Typically, spacing in meters is
(S)
where each interval is further subdivided into two parts.
The model includes a shock wave which separates from
the plasma; thus the coarse spacing occurs in the less
interesting extremes of the shock and not in the plasma.
For stability of the numerical calculation, the time interval l:it must be chosen so that the ratio of the minimum space grid to l:it is somewhat greater than the velocity of sound in the medium. In this work the time in
.
.
(
2voR(j + l)n(l:ij)
w(J + 1 ,n + 1) = w(J + 1,n)  l:it\r(j + 1)[r(j +2) r(j)]
a(j + 1) + a(j)
2
n
(9)
Using the result of Eq. (9), one obtains
R(j + 1 ,n +1) =R(j + 1 ,n) + w(j + 1 ,n + l)l:it.
(10)
Note that R(l), w(1), and w(k) are zero and R(k) is
fixed. Further steps in the procedure are
.
1)
R2 (j + 1 ,n + 1)  R2 (j, n + 1)
v ( J,n+ =vo
r 2(j+1)_r 2(j)
,
(11)
Q('
1)= S[w(l:ij,n+1)]2
J,n +
v(j,n +1) +v(j,n)
(12)
Equation (12) holds unless w(l:ij) is greater than zero in
which case Q is zero, For energy density, the difference equation is
u(j,n + 1) =u(j,n)  n(j,n)v(j, l:in)
+ a(j, n)v(j, n)e2 (n)l:it,
(13)
However to Eq. (13) must be added a heattransfer term
evaluated at n which for j =1 is
16v(1)1](l)T(Aj)l:it/[2R(2) + R(3)]R(3) ,
(14)
For j> 1, the heattransfer term evaluated at n becomes
2 l:i tv (j)
(T(l:ii)[1](i + 1) + 1](0 1R(i + 1)
R2(j+1)_R2(j)
R(i+2)R(i)
)J
I=Jl'
(15)
With u(n+1) and v(n+l) known, the properties of the
medium may be used at this point to evaluate T, P, a,
and 1] at n + 1. These calculations will be discussed
separately in Sec. III. Then with a known, the modeling
process may continue with the calculation of plasma
conductance per unit length:
g=6j 7T[R2(j + 1) _R2(j)]0'(j).
(16)
The electrical circuit is modeled as a series combination of coil L and capacitor C subject to the following
set of implicit equations:
q(n +1)=q(n) +i(n)l:it,
(17)
i(n
+ 1) == i(n) + (:~)!:it,
(1S)
e(n
+ 1) == i(n + l)/g,
(19)
(di) = q(nC+1) 
L dt
"2D[e(n)+ e(n + 1)],
(20)
where D is the length of the plasma. These equations
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78
James W. Robinson: Simulation of an electrical discharge in water
tion phenomenon previously reported. 2 Note that the
function is not valid, and is not used, in the region of
phase transistions below the critical point. The values
of the constants are shown in Table I.
,, 0.001013 kbor
00.221
o
78
5,IO,or 15
Once P has been determined one may use the thermodynamic relation
TOP _P== au
aT
i3v
(24)
to obtain u( T, v), the result being
(25)
u=j(T)  (C/E)(l +DT)exp(DTEv),
o
I
.5
o
.2~
.5
____~______~________L ____~____~
2
5
10
20XIO3
SPECIFIC VOLUME (m 3/kg)
where j(T) is an arbitrary function of temperature. Experimentally, the magnitude of u is found to be so large
that J(T) dominates the other term for the hightemperature regions of interest in this study. It is certainly
affected by dissociation and ionization phenomena. For
present purposes however, j(T) has been aSSigned the
simple form c 1 T, the constant being estimated from
experimental data. 2 In the previously described iterative
procedure, T is found from Eq. (25) by Newton's method and P is then found from Eq. (23).
Electrical conductivity has been calculated from
FIG. 2. Equationofstate data and leastmeansquares fit.
The parameter shown is pressure in kbar.
0"
may be solved for di/dt from which all other circuit
variables may be found:
di
dt
 q(n + 1)/C  ~D[e(n) + i(n)/g]
L + tDilt/g
(21)
This implicit form was used to suppress calculational
instabilities. As a final step in the iteration, current
density was found from
J(j,n +1)==0"(j,n +l)e(n +1)
(22)
and magnetic field was found by applying Stoke's theorem. In this last calculation the required current densities were obtained by linear interpolation between
known points.
III. DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDIUM
At one point in the iteration, u and v are known; T, P,
1/, are to be calculated. If one assumes local thermodynamic equilibrium, then the unknown quantities are
uniquely determined from u and v. Of the various functions required, the one for which data are best known is
p( T, v). An empirical formula has been selected to fit
available data and it is illustrated in Fig. 2. The data
for compressed liquid were taken from Rice and
Walsh,l6 and the data for superheated steam from
Keenan and Keyes .17 Solid lines represent the function
which was tailored to the data points by a leastme ansquare technique.
0",
== c 2 T3/2 exp( 5000/T) ,
(26)
where the f power is reminiscent of Spitzer's formula
for a fully ionized gas, 18 though the plasma being modeled here is too dense for Spitzer's formula to be applicable. The exponential factor defines a conduction
threshold. Without it, the simulated plasma would
develop diffuse boundaries instead of the characteristic
sharp boundaries which are observed in experiments.
The level 5000 is not a critical parameter. The multiplier c2 may be adjusted to fit the simulation to experimental conditions.
Heat transfer might be treated by USe of the Lorenz 19
number L and the relation
(27)
7l==LTO"
for the thermal conductivity. This relation is approximately correct for many metals and also for Spitzer's
formulas .18 However, radiative transfer may very well
dominate kinetic transfer. One may identify the energy
flux rate F with the gradient of the energy density times
the effective absorption length x such that
F==Xe~~B) =xe~a;) aa~
(28)
The conductivity is then the coefficient of the temperature gradient which is
(29)
TABLE 1. Constants in equation of state.
The function is
P=(800T/v)(1 +eBv") Cexp(DTEv),
(23)
where the first term dominates in region I of Fig. 2
(the shock wave) and the second term represents the
displacement of the curves in region II near the steam
dome. The constant 800 was chosen to establish the
asymptotes in region III so as to reflect the condensa
Constant
Value
45.010507
8.335 27x 10 8
1. 08318 X 103
3.067 08x 102
6.48975
C
D
E
'Y
J. Appl. Phys . Vol. 44. No.1. January 1973
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79
James W. Robinson: Simulation of an electrical discharge in water
79
10000 OK. When lower temperatures were used, the
plasma development was delayed as shown in Fig. 3,
but otherwise was much the same. (These data are
based on an algorithm not containing pinch effects. The
later version with pinch should behave similarly.) When
the long delays occurred, a weak shock propagated
ahead of the principal shock wave associated with the
plasma formation. The delay introduced by reducing the
initial temperature is qualitatively comparable with the
experimentally observed delay which occurs when a
copper wire with a low boiling point is substituted for
tungsten.
40
30
~ 20
w
cr::
cr::
::J
to
L~
The algorithm was written in such a fashion that the
user supplies data describing capacitance, inductance,
and the initial capacitor voltage as well as the length
and diameter of the initiating wire.
__~__L~__J __L~__L__L~
4
.6
.8
1.0
2
TIME (/Lsec)
FIG. 3. Discharge current as a function of time for various
choices of initial conditions. The parameter is initial temperature in OJ( of a core having a O. 02mm diameter.
For the simulation, the form
(30)
1J=Ca T3
has been adopted with c 3 being chosen to provide a good
match between simulation and experiment. The choice
of c3 does not critically affect the results, so one draws
conclusions cautiously. However, values which worked
well in the simulation correspond to substantial radiative transfer.
V. CHARACTERISTICS OF A SIMULATED
DISCHARGE
The simulations described here are compared with experimental data, the numerical constants being selected
to provide close agreement between simulation and experiment. One might undertake a vast program of carefully choosing parameters describing the medium so
that the simulation process would be accurate over a
wide range of conditions. However, such an approach
seems of limited value as the measurable characteristics are not strongly dependent on some of the parameter values. Consequently, the results shown here are
It would be possible to specify a second set of equations
160 .                        ,
for the medium of the initiating wire, that substance
being restricted to a small region near the center of the
plasma. However, it was felt that the principal conclusions of the study would not be significantly affected by
such a refinement.
140
IV. INITIAL CONDITIONS
120
The iterative solution was started from a heated core
having the same diameter as a typical initiating wire.
Specific volume was assumed to be that of undisturbed
water and temperature was specified typically to be
100
~
'"
I
w 80
TABLE
n. Initial conditions for comparison of experiment and
simulation.
Parameter
Storage capaCitor
Voltage
Wire diameter
Wire length
Circuit inductance b
cl
c2
c3
Simulation
Experiment
13.7/LF
13.7/LF
20 kV
0.02 mmaat
10000 OJ(
20 kV
0.025 mm tungstun
6.1 mm
cr::
cr::
::J
U
60
40
6.1 mm
O.l/LH
1. 2x 104
0.025
2x 1010
aSize dictated by the mesh spacing.
bThe simulated inductance was selected to provide a good fit
with experimental data. This value is certainly realistic
though precise measurements of circuit inductance were not
made.
EXPERIMENTAL DATA
COMPUTER SIMULATION
20
~~~
0.2
____ L____
0.4
~______~_____ L_ _ _ _~
0.6
0.8
1.0
1.2
TIME (,usee)
FIG. 4. Comparison of measured and simulated currents for
conditions of Table n.
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80
80
James W. Robinson: Simulation of an electrical discharge in water
1.2 ,   . . . . , ,                    ,
10,~
00
o
08
1.0.
EXPERIMENTAL DATA
COMPUTER SIMULATION
E 0.8
E
"
:l
is
>
:i
"
'w3
0.6
<Jl
0.4
0.6
o

i;:
EXPERIMENTAL DATA
COMPUTER SIMULATION
0.2
...J
<{
X
<{
0.4
02
04
06
08
TIME IjLsec)
10
14
12
0..2
FIG. 6. Comparison of measured and simulated plasma radii
for conditions of Table II.
0..2
0.4
0.6
0..8
1.0.
12
TIME (fLsec)
FIG. 5. Comparison of measured and simulated electric fields
for conditions of Table II.
mainly to justify the modelling process rather than to
establish properties of the medium.
There are three characteristics of a discharge which
can be easily measured for comparison with the simulation, these being current, axial electric field, and
radius of the luminous column. Surface temperature
can also be measured, but this cannot be obtained from
the simulation without data as to optical absorption
length. Initial conditions for the experiments and the
simulation are shown in Table II with comparisons
given for the three characteristics in Figs. 4 6.
element of mass retains its identity as its size changes,
so that an uneven division of the space variable is the
result. The difference equations have been formulated
to allow for uneven spacing, though extreme density
gradients may be responsible for the irregularities in
the pressure function at the edge of the plasma region.
The pressure calculations are not accurate for large
values of radius where very coarse spacing has been
25
20
0
.D
"
15
a:
:l
Several characteristics of the simulation are worth
comment. As already shown in Fig. 3, a delay in the
formative time of the discharge may be simulated by
appropriately choosing the initial conditions. Another
characteristic of interest is that the simulated electric
field does not decrease smoothly as a function of time
as seen in Fig. 5. Very similar behavior has been observed for certain experimental conditions where, however, the time scale for the occurrence of these irregularities was somewhat longer than that found in the
simulation.
The graphs in Fig. 7 show temperature and pressure
gradients and they also show the details associated with
the finitedifference approximation. Note that the peak
temperature is essentially constant with time and that
a strong magnetic pinch has developed. Measured temperatures' which can be considered as surface temperatures, are typically about 50000 OK and they are
compatible with the simulated values, though no accurate comparison is possible.
The plasma grows as layers of cold dense water are
heated and expanded by the flux of energy from the main
discharge channel. In the Lagrangian formulation, each
If)
If)
0::
10
"
_~I
..
~ 6
Q
w
a:
:l
a:
w
"::;
::' 2
.. ___ L
0.2
04
06
0.8
POSITION Imm)
10
_~,_J
1.2
14
FIG. 7. Radial profiles of temperature and pressure as
generated by the finitedifference method.
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81
81
James W. Robinson: Simulation of an electrical discharge in water
chosen. The abrupt nature of the shock front cannot be
reproduced with such a coarse spacing.
The medium has been defined by choosing constants C 1 ,
and c 3 so as to match the simulation with experiment. Yet the choice of constants was not critical. A
change by a factor of 2 in any of the three constants
would produce less than a 10% change in the quantities
being compared in Figs. 46. The one exception was
that the axial electric field did change Significantly in
response to a change in the electrical conductivity parameter. By constrast, the simulation was quite sensitive to changes in circuit inductance and plasma column
length. These characteristics of the simulation are
found in experiments where growth characteristics are
highly dependent upon the experimental configurations.
However, experimentally, one finds that a capacitor
discharge in highvoltage insulating oil is not notably
different from a discharge in water.
C2 ,
Thus to simulate a plasma, a person does not need a
careful description of the medium, nor can he construct
an accurate model of the medium from experimental
data.
The nature of the medium affects characteristics which
are not directly measurable, for example, internal
gradients of temperature and pressure. These quantities are perhaps more sensitive to choice of constants,
with one finding that extreme gradients may form for
certain limiting cases, such as thermal conductivity
approaching zero. The computational procedure fails
altogether in some extreme situations which are not of
physical interest.
Pressure in the shock wave adjacent to the surface of
the plasma column may be calculated from the plasma
column growth rate following methods previously described. 2 The present simulations are consistent with
the previous results.
Work supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation.
IE. A. Martin, J. Appl. Phys. 31, 255 (1960).
2J. W. Robinson, J. Appl. Phys. 38, 210 (1967).
3p. M. Sherk, Phys. Fluids 7, 913 (1964).
'Y. Y. Skvortsov, Y. S. Komel'kov, and N. Kuzretsov, SOy.
Phys.Tech. Phys. 5, llOO (1961).
5N. A. Roi and D. P. Frolov, SOy. Phys.Dokl. 3, 118 (1958).
6I.K. Fedchenko and O.S. Il'yenko, Air Force Systems Command
Report No. FTDTT651767, 1966 (unpublished).
71. Prigogine, Thermodynamics of Irreversible Processes (Interscience,
New York, 1967), 3rd ed., p. 133.
8J.R. McGrath, U.S. Naval Research Laboratory Report No. 6266,
1965 (unpublished).
9y. Y. Arsen'yev, Zh. Prikl. Mekh. Tekh. Fiz. 5, 51 (1965).
'IlJI.A. Wright, Avco Technical Report No. AVSSD000866CR,
Rev. A, 1966 (unpublished).
"H. Lapple, Electric Fuses (Butterworth, London, 1952), pp.
1415.
12A. P. Ostrovskii, DeepHole Drilling With Explosives (Consultants
Bureau, New York, 1960), pp. 1517.
13J. W. Robinson, M. Ham and A. N. Balaster, preceding paper
44, 72 (1973).
14R. D. Richtmyer and K. W. Morton, Difference Methods for
Initial Value Problems (Wiley, New York, 1967), 2nd ed., p. 294.
ISF. D. Bennett, J. Appl. Phys. 42,2835 (1971).
16M. H. Rice and J. M. Walsh, J. Chern. Phys. 26, 824 (1957).
17J. H. Keenan and F. G. Keyes, Thermodynamic Properties of
Steam (Wiley, New York, 1936).
ISLyman Spitzer, Jr., Physics of Fully Ionized Gases (Interscience,
New York, 1962), 2nd ed. pp. 138, 139, 143145.
19 A. J. Dekker, Solid State PhYSics (PrenticeHall, Englewood Cliffs,
N. J., 1957), p. 300.
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