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Development of 10 A Current Source for Precise

Resistance Measurement Method

Igor tambuk,

J6 directorate HQ CAF
Zagreb, Croatia

Abstract - Faculty of electrical engineering and computing

(FER) in Zagreb is the national holder of several
electromagnetic standards, such as volt, resistance and
capacitance. The primary standards are periodically
calibrated in PTB (Germany), while secondary standards are
intercompared and calibrated in FER laboratories using self
developed precise comparison methods.
In this paper, design of precise, voltage controlled
current source is presented. The current source is designed to
be eventually used in the development of precise resistance
comparison method for resistance range of 1 m
to 1 . The
pre-design specifications of current source required fine
tuning of current in the range from 110 A, while exhibiting
low noise, low temperature coefficient and short term stability
better than 50 ppm, independent of the measured resistance
values. The realized current source has achieved better short
term stability and lower noise than comparable commercial
Keywords low-noise current source, low resistance
measurement, FFT, power spectral density, simulation

carefully selected in order to achieve required levels of

low noise, precision and stability.

Simulation of current source

Before building the circuit, National Instruments

Multisim software was used for schematic capture and
simulation in order to test different design possibilities
and circuit behavior. Using this software several
different models of current source have been tested. The
Fig. 1. shows simplified model of the final circuit design,
with the only difference of having eight MOSFETs in the
final design, rather than two as in Fig. 1. The larger
number of MOSFETs allows achieving higher currents
with lower heating of each MOSFET, thus maintaining
the longer stability of the source. Several other
components were fine tuned as well to achieve the best
possible results.

Today, standard resistors are compared to each other
using various methods, and many of these methods use
some kind of stabilized electrical source [1]. In this paper a
design of a precision DC current source designed to be
used for resistance standard measurement method is
described. The current sources which are normally used in
research laboratories are not suitable for low resistance
measurements, as they exhibit large noise. Current source
with maximum current of 1 A have already been realized at
FER [2], and the experience gained has been used in
designing new, current source with higher maximum
current of 10 A.
The different designs of current sources are also
explained in [3], however, most of these designs were also
for current sources with low maximum currents, with some
recommendations for higher current circuits. Several
different current source circuits were contemplated and
tested, and finally one of the current source circuits has
been chosen and carefully modified. The most important
modification was to choose power MOSFETs allowing
higher currents, however all other components were

Figure 1. Simplified model of current source tested in NI

Multisim 11.0

Prototype of current source

Current source (CS) is a low-drift current regulator
that provides constant current sink using N-channel
silicon MOSFETs to drive the load (Fig. 2.). It is running
off a single supply of +12 volts. The operational

amplifier buffers the precision voltage reference Linear

Technology 1027 output and the resistive divider from the
gate of the MOSFETs. This provides better stability when
higher current levels are involved. In this design Linear
technology LT1027 voltage references output is picked off
from the potentiometer P1 and used as a reference level for
the operational amplifier A1 noninverting input. This
results the Vref voltage setting being transferred across the
current-setting resistor RS. As a result, the reference voltage
output is converted to a constant current, regardless of load
voltage. The operational amplifier A1 chosen is a
precision, high speed, low noise Analog devices OP27. The
OP27 combines the low offset of 25 mV and maximum
drift of 0.6 mV/C [4], which is ideal for precision current
source application. A precision, wire wound low-value
power resistor RS from Tyco Electronics (0,47 ; 50W)
with a temperature coefficient of 50 ppm/C is used to
define the MOSFETs source current. The output current Io
of the current source is then defined by the reference
voltage Vref across the power resistor RS.


A. Testing equipment
To test the current source [5], following equipment was

C-series module NI-USB-9239 for analog to

digital conversion - it has four 24 bit resolution
channels with a range of 10 V and 50 kS/s/ch
simultaneous inputs. [6-7]
Current shunts of 2m and 5m nominal value
Self written test software written in LabVIEWTM
graphical programming language.

The self-developed software for testing was made

with the idea to characterise the current source on its
noise level and time stability. It was done by measuring
the voltage drop on low value current shunts, using the
current from current source, and analyzing the data with
LabVIEW signal analysis built in functions [8]. The
current source was tested using the 220AC/12DC LC8500BTX power supply, 500 W, and also 12 V
rechargeable sealed lead acid battery to see if the power
supply can be used instead of battery without
compromising the accuracy.
The channels 2 and 3 of the DAQ have been chosen
as they have the lowest standard deviation of ratio (+/0,19 ppm). This DAQ card has also been tested for
nonlinearity (INL), which are deviations of measured
values from ideal or least square line given by voltage of
some high stability dc source [9]. The measurement setup
can be seen in Fig. 3.

Figure 2. Current Source circuit

The MOSFET chosen is a Sanyo Ultrahigh-Speed
Switching Application transistor 2SK1420, 60V, 25 A Nchannel, with a Low ON-state resistance of less then 0,045
. It comes in standard TO-220 power transistor package,
so it can be mounted on a heat sink. All MOSFETs of the
current source are connected on a same large fined heat
sink. The cooling was improved with active cooling from
12 cm ventilator to reduce heating in the power resistor and
MOSFET areas. Higher current are obtained simply by
paralleling several power MOSFET. [3] Initially, the
MOSFET with the highest transconductance draws the
most drain current, and as result will have the highest
power dissipation. However the resulting increase of
temperature will also increase its on-resistance Rds that has
a positive temperature coefficient, which will help limit the
drain current. As a result, the total drain current will
automatically balance its self through all of the other
MOSFETs in the circuit. A separate gate resistor of 1 k is
used between the operational amplifier output and the gate
of each MOSFET.

Figure 3. Measurement setup

B. Computing Noise Level and Power Spectral Density
The noise floor of a given power spectrum depends
on the spectrum bandwidth. In analog to digital
conversion process this means that the noise level
depends on the sampling rate and number of points. In
other words, the noise level at each frequency line reads
as if it were measured through an f Hz filter centered at
that frequency line. Therefore, for a given sampling rate,
doubling the number of points acquired reduces the noise
power that appears in each bin by 3 dB [10].
For example, in Fig. 4. the noise floor appears to be
more than 120 dB below full scale for the voltage
measurements on two shunts with current provided by
described current source.

2 - PSD of voltage fluctuation on 5 m shunt

The power spectrum of the current fluctuations through
the load S A = V [11] decreases with increased current
R 2L
setting resistance RL. As the current source developed is
designed to supply current for low value resistance
measurements, it is not possible to measure current noise
floor at this moment, as it would require the use of
resistance RL larger than 100k. Also, higher values of
resistances could not be used as the output DC voltage
reaches the limit of the current source for higher currents
[12]. The results of the NI 9239 were compared with 14
bit card USB-6009, f = 1 Hz shown on Fig. 6.

Figure 4. FFT(RMS) of voltage noise measurement on two

shunts with sampling rate of 50 kS/s, I0=9A
1 - FFT of voltage fluctuation on 2 m shunt
2 - FFT of voltage fluctuation on 5 m shunt
Because of noise-level scaling with f, spectrum for
noise measurement is often displayed in a normalized
format called power or amplitude spectral density (PSD),
usually measured by a 1 Hz-wide square filter [10], which is
calculated as:


Power Spectrum in Vrms
f Noise Power Bandwith of Window


For uniform window, noise power bandwidth is equal to 1,

and the units are then in


The power spectrum density (PSD) of the voltage

fluctuations across shown in Fig. 5.

Figure 5. Power spectral density (PSD) of voltage noise

measurements on two shunts with sampling rate of 50 kS/s,
1 - PSD of voltage fluctuation on 2 m shunt

Figure 6. FFT(RMS) of voltage noise measurements on

two shunts with sampling rate of 5 kS/s (NI DAQ USB6009), I0=9A
1 - FFT of voltage fluctuation on 2 m shunt
2 - FFT of voltage fluctuation on 5 m shunt
It is shown that NI 9239 has yielded 40 dB lower
noise level than USB-6009.

Figure 7. FFT(RMS) of voltage noise measurement with

sampling rate of 50 kS/s (NI DAQ USB-9239)
1 - FFT of voltage fluctuation on 2 m shunt (CS is off)
2 - FFT of voltage fluctuation with short circuited inputs
on DAQ card (CS is off).

Also, the noise floor measurements have been performed
by short circuiting the high and low signals to the analog
input ground with short wire (Fig. 7.). The noise floor
measured with this experiment is the same as with current
source on. The conclusion is that the noise measurements
depends on the applied A/D conversion hardware, while
the noise level of the current source is below these levels.
C. Stability of current source and transients
In order to test the stability of current source, a
measurement cycle has been started as soon as the current
source has been excited. After a settling time was
determined, another measurement has been performed to
measure the stability of the source in the 10 min interval.
The results were compared with Fluke 5220A
transconductance current amplifier, which states that for
currents of 20A the output changes less then
0,005%I0200A in 10 minutes with constant line, load
and temperature. The Fig. 8. shows that the settling time is
approximately four minutes from the start of operation.

The design, realization and testing of an ultra low

noise current source has been described. The careful
design and the accurate selection of active and passive
components, have allowed us to obtain noise levels
similar to those which were previously possible only by
means of low noise batteries. The current source can
operate with the use of outlet power source with
negligible loss of quality. The current source will be used
in developing the resistance measurement method for
low resistance values.
The future research will be also done in following

adding several current output ranges

more detailed testing of current source
improving the stability of source
automatization of operation with the use of
development of front end for DAQ module with
programmable gain amplifier


Figure 8. Settling time of current source

To test the stability of current source, the setup
according to Fig. 3. is used, with the current of 9 A, and
sampling time of 50 kS/s. The standard deviation of
measured voltages in two channels were less than 0,2 ppm,
even though the voltage level is 20 mV, just 20 % of 100
mV range The measurements were repeated with battery as
the main power supply with only slightly better results,
confirming that the current source can be operated with
220/12 power converter with negligible loss of quality.

Guildline Instruments Limited Advances in High Current and

Resistance Measurements(2011)
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current source
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Low noise constant current source for bias dependent noise