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Power Semiconductors: The BJT, MOSFET, and IGBT

Reid L. Sprite, Member, IEEE

AbstractAlthough insulated gate bipolar transistors (IGBTs) are now the most common type of power semiconductors, they have inherent advantages and disadvantages over other such devices as bipolar junction transistors (BJTs) and metal oxide field-effect transistors (FETs). Index TermsInsulated gate bipolar transistors, Power bipolar transistors, Power MOSFETs, Power semiconductor devices.

base region is forward biased so that majority carriers will flow across the junction. On the other hand, the collectorbase region is reverse biased, which results in a small minority carrier flow. B. Operational Advantages and Disadvantages When used in a common emitter mode, as it is most often, the BJT acts as a current-controlled switch. The base current is in the input and the collector current is the output. Because it is current-controlled, it has a fairly low saturation voltage, which is desirable. In addition, BJTs are able to handle high voltages and currents with few problems. Of course, there are many drawbacks. The BJT has low gain at high frequencies, so it is not useful for amplification under those conditions. Additionally, it does not have a very high surge ratingthe peak current is only about twice the maximum continuous current rating. Unlike MOSFETs, BJTs also have a relatively slow switching speed because it takes time to charge the emitter and collector depletion capacitances, which consequently slows the turn-on time. There are also two breakdown areas associated with the BJT that reduce its safe operating area. The first is the avalanche breakdown, which causes a rapid rise in current, and a second breakdown can be brought on by inductive loads, which can overheat and destroy the transistor.

I. INTRODUCTION LTHOUGH power semiconductors were first developed in the late 1940s, they have matured significantly in sixty years. In todays society, power semiconductors can be found everywhere. They are essentially the solid-state version of the mechanical relay or the vacuum tube. Some of most common applications include motor drives, uninterruptible power supplies, audio amplifiers, and fluorescent lighting. For the best device suited for the job, it has become a competition between the bipolar junction transistor (BJT), the metal oxide field-effect transistor (MOSFET), and the insulated gate bipolar transistor (IGBT). Each has inherent advantages over the others, but the IGBT has seemed to dominate the industry in recent years.

II. THE BIPOLAR JUNCTION TRANSISTOR (BJT) A. Physical Characteristics One of the first types of power semiconductors, the BJT is a three layered semiconductor consisting of a sandwich of p-n-p or n-p-n materials. In addition, it has three terminals: the emitter, the collector, and the base. The base is lightly doped, whereas the emitter is heavily doped and wider. The emitter-

III. THE METAL OXIDE SEMICONDUCTOR FIELD EFFECT TRANSISTOR (MOSFET) A. Physical Characteristics The MOSFET was introduced in the 1970s and, unlike the BJT, is a voltage controlled device. It also has three terminals, though they differ from the BJT: the source, the gate, and the drain. The source and drain diffusions are separated by the gate. The MOSFET has a p or n channel and can operate in depletion or enhancement mode. In enhancement, no current flows when the gate voltage is zero. In depletion mode, however, a narrow n channel is formed under the gate such that current will still flow when the gate voltage is zero. B. Operational Advantages and Disadvantages In comparison to the BJT, the MOSFET is far superior. It has a high input impedance, reducing complexity and cost, and a low input current drive. At low currents, it also has a higher gain than the BJT. To handle higher currents, it is

Fig. 1. Schematic diagram and circuit symbol of the BJT

Manuscript received December 12, 2004. Reid L. Sprite is an undergraduate student with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Rochester, Rochester, NY 14627-5982 USA (phone: 517-372-2348; email:

2 When used in combination with power integrated circuits, one can expect a cost reduction by a factor of ten [2]. The only disadvantage comes in switching speed. While the IGBT can compete with the speed of the BJT, it cannot beat the MOSFET. The faster the switching, the greater the forward voltage drop, and it has a relatively high turn-off time due to the long lifetime of minority carriers. However, these problems recently have been overcome [4], allowing the IGBT to dominate in industrial applications.
Fig. 2. Power MOSFET schematic [1]

sufficient to simply put several MOSFETs in parallel, and because there is only one breakdown region, the safe operating region is larger. Additionally, because they are free from minority carrier storage times, MOSFETs are faster at switching than the BJTs. Despite its advantages, the MOSFET has low gain at high currents. Moreover, it was slow to catch on and had an overall greater cost than a BJT of the same power rating. However, in recent years, the prices have come down and MOSFETs have gained in popularity [2].

V. APPLICATIONS . Because power semiconductors have very wide-ranging applications, the most desirable type for a given application comes down to several factors: the amplification, the switching speed, and the power class. Trends in particular types can be seen in applications in industry, the consumer market, and transportation. A. Industrial Applications Within industry, the two main uses for power semiconductors are for motor control and power supplies. For motor drives, power semiconductors can control all sizes of motors from those found in large mills to simple machine tools. The trend in the method of controlling of these motors has been toward IGBTs. Likewise, due to their versatility, the use of the IGBT has become the trend in constructing power supplies for such applications as battery charging, welding, and induction heating. B. Consumer Applications In the consumer market, power semiconductors can be found in audio amplifiers, heat controls, light dimmers, and again in motor controls. Because of the low cost and high amplification of MOSFETs, they have become the preference in audio amplifier construction. On the other hand, the IGBT is dominating in heat controls, dimmers, and motor drives. An example consumer application of the IGBT can be seen in Figure 4. Here, and IGBT modules is used to control an induction coil that is used to heat a pan for cooking. In this particular case, the IGBT acts as a switch; when voltage is applied to the gate, the current will flow through the induction coil, otherwise no current will flow. Because the IGBT can

IV. THE INSULATED GATE BIPOLAR TRANSISTOR (IGBT) A. Physical Characteristics The IGBT is the most popular power semiconductor currently used today. It combines the MOS gate structure with the bipolar current conduction to create a device that is the best of both the MOSFET and the BJT. For terminals, it is a hybrid between the BJT and the MOSFET. It has three terminals: the collector, the gate, and the emitter. Schematically, the IGBT is basically a p-n-p BJT powered by an n-channel MOSFET.

Fig. 3. IGBT schematic [3].

B. Operational Advantages and Disadvantages The IGBT brings together the advantages of a BJT and MOSFET. It has high input impedance, a low power consumption, and a large safe operating area. It also has a remarkably high power handling capability for a given chip size. And, because it is a minority carrier device on a p+ substrate, it has superior conduction to a standard MOSFET.

Fig. 4. Basic circuit example of IGBT power module used with an induction heating coil for cooking [6].

3 handle high currents, there is little concern that the semiconductor will overheat and/or be destroyed with the high currents that are necessary for induction heating. C. Transportation Applications Within transportation, motor control with the IGBT is again most prevalent. IGBTs are utilized in drives for electric cars and trains. However, BJTs can be found in simpler applications such as electronic ignition and vehicle voltage regulation.

VI. CONCLUSION Whereas all of the mentioned devices have certain advantages, the IGBT has proven to make the best use of all of these advantages while minimizing the disadvantages. As such, IGBTs have taken over in popularity and are now being even further optimized to suit the needs of an ideal power semiconductor.

[1] [2] [3] Vrej Barkhordarian, Power MOSFET Basics, (International Rectifier, 2004), B. Jayant Baliga, Modern Power Devices (Krieger Publishing, Malabar, Florida, 1987), Chap. 1. IGBT Fundamentals, (Seimens Semiconductor Group, 2004), plication_Notes/lh_ap_18.pdf. Fraidoon Mazda, Power Electronics Handbook (Newnes, Oxford, 1997), Chap. 1. D.A. Grant, Power semiconductors-innovation and improvement continue to challenge the designer, in New Developments in Power Semiconductor Devices, IEE Colloquium on, May 1991. Main Applications for Power Modules, (Mitsubishi Electronics, Sept. 1998),

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