The Buchholz relay (figures 33 and 34) has two oil-filled chambers with floats and relays arranged vertically—one over the other. If high eddy currents, local overheating, or partial discharges occur within the tank, bubbles of resultant gas rise to the top of the tank. These bubbles rise through the pipe between the tank and the conservator. As gas bubbles migrate along the pipe, they enter the Buchholz relay and rise into the top chamber. As gas builds up inside the chamber, it displaces the oil, which decreases the oil level. The top float descends with the oil level until it passes a magnetic switch, which activates an alarm. The bottom float and relay cannot be activated by additional gas buildup. The float is located slightly below the top of the pipe so that once the top chamber is filled, additional gas goes into the pipe and continues up to the conservator. Typically, inspection windows are provided so that the amount of gas and relay operation may be viewed during testing. If the oil level falls low enough (conservator empty), the bottom float activates the switch contacts in the bottom chamber.
Figure 33 – Buchholz Relay, Section
Figure 34 – Photograph of a Buchholz Relay
These contacts are typically connected to cause the transformer to trip. This relay also serves a third function, similar to the sudden pressure relay. A magnetically held paddle attached to the bottom float is positioned in the oil-flow stream between the conservator and transformer tank. Normal flows resulting from temperature changes are small and bypass below the paddle. If a fault occurs in the transformer, a pressure wave (surge) is created in the oil. This surge travels through the pipe and displaces the paddle. The paddle activates the same magnetic switch as the bottom float mentioned above, which trips the transformer. The flow rate at which the paddle activates the
relay is normally adjustable. See your specific transformer’s instruction manual for details. Once every 3 to 5 years, while the transformer is de-energized, functionally test the Buchhholz relay by pumping a small amount of air into the top chamber with a squeeze-bulb hand pump. Watch the float operation through the window (center in figure 32). Check to make sure the correct alarm point has been activated. Open the bleed valve and vent air from the chamber. The bottom float and switching cannot be tested with air pressure. On some relays, a rod is provided so that you can test both bottom and top sections by pushing the floats down until the trip points are activated. If possible, verify that the breaker will trip with this operation. A volt-ohmmeter may also be used to check the switches. If these contacts activate during operation, it means that the oil level is very low, a pressure wave has activated (bottom contacts), or the transformer is gassing (top contacts). If this relay operates, do not re-energize the transformer until you have determined the exact cause.
If a small amount of gas is found in this relay when the transformer is new (a few months after startup), it is probably just air that has been trapped in the transformer structure and is now escaping; there is little cause for concern.
If the transformer has been online for some time (service aged), and gas is found in the Buchholz, oil samples must be sent to the lab for DGA and extensive testing. Consult with the manufacturer and other transformer experts. A definite cause of the gas bubbles must be determined and corrected before re-energization of the transformer.