Current-free double layers of the type reported in plasmas in the presence of an expanding magnetic field [C. Charles and R. W. Boswell, Appl. Phys. Lett.82, 1356 (2003)] are modeled theoretically and with particle-in-cell/Monte Carlo simulations. Emphasis is placed on determining what mechanisms affect the electron velocity distribution function (EVDF) and how the EVDF influences the double layer. A theoretical model is developed based on depletion of electrons in certain velocity intervals due to wall losses and repletion of these intervals due to ionization and elastic electron scattering. This model is used to predict the range of neutral pressures over which a double layer can form and the electrostatic potential drop of the double layer. These predictions are shown to compare well with simulation results.

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