An experimental investigation of the effect of oxygen on the erosion of a multichannel tungsten cathode

  • G. V. Babkin
  • A. V. Potapov


The problem of the preservation of electrodes and the reduction of their depletion to a minimum has decisive significance among the practical questions of maintaining the efficiency of steady sources and plasma accelerators during an extended period of operation. For this purpose electrodes are made, as a rule, out of the refractory metals in familiar designs. In particular, tungsten, which has the highest phase-transition; temperatures among all the metals, thus permitting an appreciable reduction in the evaporation rate of the material under the thermally stressed operating conditions of these devices, is attractive. However, there exist other factors besides evaporation which affect the integrity of hot tungsten electrodes and their ablation (chemical processes, erosion in microarcs, ion bombardment, and so on). One of these factors requiring special investigation is the chemical interaction of tungsten with the oxygen contained in the working medium as an industrial impurity. Such an impurity can, for example, be present in industrially pure alkali and alkali-earth metals used as the working media. In addition, these metals can be contaminated by the oxygen of the air in the process of different industrial operations, in particular, in connection with the servicing of the supply system. The entrance into the working material of oxygen liberated from the structural elements of the supply route and the operating cavities of the plasma source is not excluded. In practice it is impossible to eliminate oxygen, even when using contemporary methods of deep cleaning of lithium, due to its great affinity for oxygen. The actual role of the oxygen impurity and the necessity for taking it into account in connection with the creation and operation of plasma devices can only be revealed as a result of direct experimental investigation on samples having an electrode. geometry similar to the class of sources or accelerators in question. Results are presented in this article of an experimental investigation of the erosion of a multichannel tungsten electrode [1–4] and a coaxial source of lithium plasma [5]. The use of lithium as the main plasma-forming material ensured the maintainance of a discharge distributed over the electrodes and having a small value of the potential drop next to the cathode, which lies below the threshold of cathode erosion upon bombardment of the surface of polycrystalline tungsten by lithium ions [6]. Thus, the phenomena of cathode destruction associated with microarcs and ion bombardment could be exluded from consideration in practice. Thus evaporation and chemical ablation due to interaction with the oxygen of the working medium remain the principal, competing processes contributing to the erosion of the cathode mass. Therefore, in order to obtain reliable quantitative relationships which characterize differential erosion due to oxidation and evaporation, the oxygen content in the working medium was varied in the experiments described within limits extending beyond the framework of the usual industrial impurity, which does not exceed tenths of a percent. One should note that in the process of investigating the role of an industrial oxygen impurity in causing the erosion of a tungsten cathode in a lithium plasma its direct effect was revealed on the anomalous current of a hollow cathode, which is characterized by the recorded average densities of the discharge current exceeding significantly the values of the emission current given at the same surface temperature by the Richardson-Schottky equation [7–9].


Tungsten Tungsten Electrode Oxygen Impurity Plasma Accelerator Tungsten Cathode 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1979

Authors and Affiliations

  • G. V. Babkin
    • 1
  • A. V. Potapov
    • 1
  1. 1.Moscow

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