The ultraviolet (UV) irradiation crosslinking reactions of polyethylene and the electronic properties of photo-initiators and reaction products are theoretically investigated by the first-principles calculations. The crosslinked polyethylene (XLPE) materials are prepared in experiments that employ the UV-initiated crosslinking technique with different photon-initiation systems. Infrared spectrum and the alternating current dielectric breakdown strength of UV-initiated XLPE are tested to explore the effect of reaction products on the breakdown characteristics in combination with the electron structure calculations. The theoretical calculations indicate that the 4-hydroxybenzophenone laurate, which is compatible with polyethylene, can effectively initiate crosslinking reactions of polyethylene molecules under UV photon excitation and will produce reaction by-products from carbonyl radicals; as a macromolecular auxiliary crosslinker, the monomer or homopolymer of dioleyl-2,2′,4,4′-tetraallyl isocyanurate can form chemical connections with multiple polyethylene molecules acting as a crosslinking node in a photon-initiated reaction process. The carbonyl, hydroxyl, or ester groups of reaction by-products are capable of capturing hot electrons to prevent polyethylene molecules from impact ionization, and thus will increase the breakdown electric field. The macromolecular auxiliary crosslinker and the macromolecular photon initiator as well as its reaction by-product can convert the energy of their captured high-energy electrons into heat, which can act as a voltage stabilizer. The molecule characterization of infrared spectra demonstrates that the characteristic absorption peaks of the carbonyl in the macromolecular photon initiator and the allyl in the macromolecular auxiliary crosslinking agent are gradually decreasing in intensity as the crosslinking reaction proceeds, which is consistent with the conclusion from theoretical calculations. Compared with the small molecular photon-initiation system generally used in the photon-initiated crosslinking process, the higher dielectric breakdown field of XLPE being prepared by utilizing a macromolecular photon-initiation system is in good agreement with the calculation results of electronic affinity and ionization potential. The consistent results of the experiments and first-principles calculations elucidate the fundamental mechanism of the UV-initiation crosslinking technique and suggest a prospective routine to improve the insulation strength for developing high-voltage XLPE insulating materials.
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