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Zener Diodes

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The Zener Diode
In the previous Signal Diode tutorial we saw that a "reverse biased" diode passes very little current but will suffer breakdown or damage if the reverse voltage applied across it is made to high. However, Zener Diodes or "Breakdown Diodes" as they are sometimes called, are basically the same as the standard junction diode but are specially made to have a low pre-determined Reverse Breakdown Voltage, called the "Zener Voltage" (Vz). In the forward direction it behaves just like a normal signal diode passing current, but when the reverse voltage applied to it exceeds the selected reverse breakdown voltage a process called Avalanche Breakdown occurs in the depletion layer and the current through the diode increases to the maximum circuit value, which is usually limited by a series resistor. The point at which current flows can be very accurately controlled (to less than 1% tolerance) in the doping stage of the diodes construction giving it a specific Zener Breakdown voltage (Vz) ranging from a few volts up to a few hundred volts.

Zener Diode I-V Characteristics
Zener Diodes are used in the "REVERSE" bias mode, i.e. the anode connects to the negative supply, and from its I-V characteristics curve above, we can see that the Zener diode has a region in its reverse bias characteristics of almost a constant voltage regardless of the current flowing through the diode. This voltage across the diode (it's Zener Voltage, Vz) remains nearly constant even with large changes in current through the diode caused by variations in the supply voltage or load. This ability to control itself can be used to great effect to regulate or stabilise a voltage source against supply or load variations. The diode will continue to regulate until the diode current falls below the minimum Iz value in the reverse breakdown region.

The Zener Regulator
Zener Diodes can be used to produce a stabilised voltage output by passing a small current through it from a voltage source via a suitable current limiting resistor, (R S). We remember from the previous tutorials that the DC output voltage from the half or fullwave rectifiers contains ripple superimposed onto the DC voltage and that as the load value changes so to does the average output voltage. By connecting a simple Zener stabiliser circuit as shown below across the output of the rectifier a more stable reference voltage can be produced.

Zener Diode Stabiliser

A 5. The Zener diode is connected with its Cathode terminal connected to the positive rail of the DC supply so it is reverse biased and will be operating in its breakdown condition. RS c) The load current IL if a load resistor of 1kΩ is connected across the Zener diode. VS being connected across the combination while the stabilised output voltage Voutis taken from across the Zener diode.The resistor.c. Example No1. b) The value of the series resistor. Care must be taken when selecting the appropriate value of resistance that the Zener maximum power rating is not exceeded under this "no-load" condition. no load current (IL = 0). is drawn and all the circuit current passes through the Zener diode which dissipates its maximum power. RL is connected to the circuit. The upper limit of current is of course dependant upon the power rating of the device. When no load resistance. There is a minimum Zener current for which the stabilization of the voltage is effective and the Zener current must stay above this value operating within its breakdown region at all times. Using the circuit above calculate: a) The maximum current flowing in the Zener Diode. d) The total supply current IS . RS is connected in series with the Zener diode to limit the current flow with the output from the voltage source. input source. The maximum power rating of the Zener diode is 2W.0v stabilised power supply is required from a 12v d. Resistor RS is selected so to limit the maximum current flowing in the circuit.

3V 9. Vin must of course be higher than the largest output reference voltage and in our example above this is 19v. C7V5 for a 7. The supply voltage. Zener diodes can also be joined together in series along with normal silicon signal diodes to produce a variety of different reference voltage values as shown below.6 12V 27V 6.2V 18V 39V 4.8V 15V 33V 3.4V 5.3V 9.5V device giving a diode reference of BZX55C7V5.2V 18V 4.2V 13V 30V 3.1V 20V 4.7V 5.3W 3.6V 7.6V 12V 27V 3.9V 8. The individual voltage values for these small but very useful diodes are given in the table below.7v in the forward bias condition.8V 15V 3.5V 16V 36V 3.7V 10V 22V 47V .9V 8. A typical Zener diode is the 500mW BZX55 series or the larger 1.2V 13V 30V 2.5V 16V 3.3V 6. BZX55 Zener Diode Power Rating 500mW 2.1V 11V 24V 5.0V 6.3V 6. Zener Diodes Connected in Series The values of the individual Zener diodes can be chosen to suit the application while the silicon diode drops about 0.1V 11V 24V BZX85 Zener Diode Power Rating 1.6V 7.7V 10V 22V 5.3W BZX85 series were the Zener voltage is given as for example.1V 20V 43V 4.Zener Values As well as producing a single stabilised voltage output.

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we could summarize this behavior by saying that the diode is regulating the voltage drop at approximately 0. which as we know doesn't vary much from 0.7 volts. current rises quite rapidly for modest increases in voltage drop. Because this is an exponential function. please post on our forums If we connect a diode and resistor in series with a DC voltage source so that the diode is forward-biased. diode current is limited by the voltage of the power supply. According to the “diode equation” here. with just a little decrease in diode voltage drop. If the power supply voltage were to be increased.If you notice any errors.Semiconductors » DIODES AND RECTIFIERS » Zener diodes We need your help! This page requires proofreading . the voltage drop across the diode will remain fairly constant over a wide range of power supply voltages as in Figure below (a). the series resistor. and the diode's voltage drop. Conversely. a decrease in power supply voltage would result in an almost equal decrease in resistor voltage drop. In the circuit shown in Figure below (a). and the diode's voltage drop just a little.7 volts. Another way of considering this is to say that voltage dropped across a forward-biased diode changes little for large variations in diode current. the current through a forward-biased PN junction is proportional to e raised to the power of the forward voltage drop. In a word.• • • • • • • • • • • Ινδυ χ τ ο ρ ∆ιο δ ε Ζεν ε ρ χοµ µ υ τ α τ ι ν γ χιρχυ ι τ σ σω ι τ χ η ι ν γ διο δ ε σ χιρχυ ι τ σ Σπ ε χ ι α λ− πυρ π ο σ ε Οτη ε ρ ΣΠ Ι Χ Ε διοδ ε µο δ ε λ σ διο δ ε σ τεχη ν ο λ ο γ ι ε σ Χο ν τ ρ ι β υ τ ο ρ σ Βα χ κ το Χηα π τ ε ρ Ινδ ε ξ Πρ ι ν τ Π∆Φ Volume III . the resistor's voltage drop would increase almost the same amount. .

If we reversed the polarity of the diode in our single-diode regulator circuit and increased the power supply voltage to the point where the diode “broke down” (could no longer withstand the reverse-bias voltage impressed across it). the diode would similarly regulate the voltage at that breakdown point. but needed to be powered by a chemical battery. whose voltage changes over its lifetime. in my opinion). where it would receive an unchanging 0. but most practical circuits of any kind require a power supply voltage in excess of 0. . much greater than forward voltage. (a) Reverse biased Si small-signal diode breaks down at about 100V. we could either use more diodes in series (an inelegant option. but so is reverse breakdown voltage. if we had ten diodes in series.” If larger regulated voltages are required. We could form a circuit as shown and connect the circuit requiring steady voltage across the diode. the regulated voltage would be ten times 0.7 volts. Suppose we were building some kind of circuit which could not tolerate variations in power supply voltage. (b) Symbol for Zener diode. One way we could increase our voltage regulation point would be to connect multiple diodes in series.7V. We know that diode forward voltage is a fairly constant figure under a wide range of conditions. Forward biased Si reference: (a) single diode. or 7 volts in Figure below (b). 0. and breakdown voltage is typically much.7 volts each would add to create a larger total. For instance.Voltage regulation is a useful diode property to exploit.7. there would always be about 7 volts dropped across the ten-diode “stack.7 volts to properly function. not allowing it to increase further as in Figure below (a). This would certainly work. or try a fundamentally different approach. (b) 10-diodes in series 7. So long as the battery voltage never sagged below 7 volts.0V. so that their individual forward voltage drops of 0.

This zener voltage changes slightly with temperature. this stability and accuracy is generally good enough for the zener diode to be used as a voltage regulator device in common power supply circuit in Figure below. the diode will not be harmed. Like any semiconductor device.7 volts. it would only drop 0. Zener voltage = 12. it is possible to build a special type of diode that can handle breakdown without failing completely.6 volts.6 volts. they usually fail shorted rather than open. Zener diodes are manufactured with zener voltages ranging anywhere from a few volts to hundreds of volts. Therefore. If we had oriented the diode in the “normal” way.” they usually do so destructively. they do not conduct until the applied voltage reaches or exceeds the so-called zener voltage. and in doing so will try to limit the voltage dropped across it to that zener voltage point. when normal rectifying diodes “break down. In reverse-bias mode. However. So long as the power supply voltage remains above the zener voltage (12.7 volts. When forward-biased. the zener diode is sensitive to temperature. Excessive temperature will destroy a zener diode. may be anywhere from 5 percent to 10 percent in error from the manufacturer's specifications. . at which point the diode is able to conduct substantial current. it produces its own heat in accordance with Joule's Law (P=IE). in this example). just like a regular rectifying diode. Please take note of the zener diode's orientation in the above circuit: the diode is reversebiased. and like common carbon-composition resistor values. so as to be forward-biased. we must operate it in its reverse-bias mode. This type of diode is called a zener diode. like a piece of wire. the voltage dropped across the zener diode will remain at approximately 12. So long as the power dissipated by this reverse current does not exceed the diode's thermal limits. A diode failed in this manner is readily detected: it drops almost zero voltage when biased either way. zener diodes behave much the same as standard rectifying diodes: they have a forward voltage drop which follows the “diode equation” and is about 0. and because it both drops voltage and conducts current. If we want to exploit this diode's reverse breakdown properties. and its symbol looks like Figure above (b). when zener diodes fail due to excessive power dissipation. one must be careful to design the regulator circuit in such a way that the diode's power dissipation rating is not exceeded. Interestingly enough.Unfortunately. Zener diode regulator circuit. and intentionally so. However.6V).

(b) Calculation of voltage drops and current. Power is calculated by multiplying current by voltage (P=IE).12. for example. then why not design the circuit for the least amount of dissipation possible? Why not just size the resistor for a very high value of resistance.4 volts dropped across 1000 Ω gives 32. as would a resistor rated for 1. (Figure below (b)) (a) Zener Voltage regulator with 1000 Ω resistor.6 volts.4 volts).Let's examine a zener diode regulating circuit mathematically. with a 100 kΩ resistor instead of a 1 kΩ resistor. 32. Note that both the power supply voltage and the diode's zener voltage in Figure below are identical to the last example: .5 or 2 watts of dissipation.5 watt would be adequate. If excessive power dissipation is detrimental.6 volts so as to avoid having to qualify all figures as “approximate” in Figure below (a) If the zener diode's voltage is 12.6 volts = 32. and a series resistor value of 1000 Ω (we'll regard the zener voltage to be exactly 12. Taking the same form of circuit shown earlier.4 volts dropped across the resistor (45 volts . currents. and power dissipations. thus severely limiting current and keeping power dissipation figures very low? Take this circuit. we'll perform calculations assuming a zener voltage of 12. so we can calculate power dissipations for both the resistor and the zener diode quite easily: A zener diode with a power rating of 0. determining all voltages. there will be 32. a power supply voltage of 45 volts.4 mA of current in the circuit.6 volts and the power supply's voltage is 45 volts.

6 volts across the load. With only 1/100 of the current we had before (324 µA instead of 32. (Figure below) Zener non-regulator with 100 KΩ series resistor with 500 Ω load. This leaves 7. If 12. However. doesn't it? Less power dissipation means lower operating temperatures for both the diode and the resistor.2 mA of current through the zener diode.2 mA of current. and also less wasted energy in the system. and this something will have a current draw of its own. In other words. both power dissipation figures should be 100 times smaller: Seems ideal. Consider our first regulator circuit. In order for the 1 kΩ series “dropping” resistor to drop 32. What it is supposed to do is maintain 12.4 mA of current. Now consider our “power-saving” regulator circuit with the 100 kΩ dropping resistor. Remember that the purpose of a regulator circuit is to provide a stable voltage for another circuit. but it unfortunately introduces another problem. right? A higher resistance value does reduce power dissipation levels in the circuit. as we will see. Zener regulator with 1000 Ω series resistor and 500 Ω load. this time with a 500 Ω load connected in parallel with the zener diode in Figure below. we're eventually going to power something with 12.6 across the zener).> . just like the last circuit.6 volts.6 volts is maintained across a 500 Ω load.Zener regulator with 100 kΩ resistor. delivering power to the same 500 Ω load. the load will draw 25.4 volts (reducing the power supply's voltage of 45 volts down to 12. it still must conduct 32. it cannot accomplish this task.4 mA).

it can no longer regulate voltage. The situation is easier to comprehend if we temporarily remove the zener diode from the circuit and analyze the behavior of the two resistors alone in Figure below. it would draw 25. the diode ceases to regulate voltage. inserting the known . With a total voltage of 45 volts and a total resistance of 100.520 volts! Since we obviously don't have that much voltage supplied by the battery.6 volts across the load.6 volts must be dropped across to “activate” it. Non-regulator with Zener removed. This is far below the zener breakdown voltage of the diode and so it will not “break down” and conduct current. To find this acceptable load resistance value. dropping too much voltage across the series dropping resistor. Just because a zener diode happens to be connected in a circuit doesn't guarantee that the full zener voltage will always be dropped across it! Remember that zener diodes work by limiting voltage to some maximum level. Our regulator circuit with the 100 kΩ dropping resistor must be good for some value of load resistance.5 kΩ. Ohm's Law (I=E/R) tells us that the current will be 447. there will only be about 224 mV of voltage across the 500 Ω load. and the load voltage will fall below the regulation point.With the larger value of dropping resistor in place. respectively. If we were to re-install the zener diode at this point.2 mA of current going through it would be 2. leaving insufficient voltage across the zener diode to make it conduct. they cannot make up for a lack of voltage.6 volts! Why is this? If we actually had 12. If the load resistance is too low. any zener diode regulating circuit will function so long as the load's resistance is equal to or greater than some minimum value.76 µA. This load current would have to go through the series dropping resistor as it did before. Both the 100 kΩ dropping resistor and the 500 Ω load resistance are in series with each other. this cannot happen. the voltage dropped across that resistor with 25. far less than the expected value of 12.2 mA of current. at this low voltage the diode wouldn't conduct even if it were forward-biased! Thus. as before. giving a total circuit resistance of 100. For that matter. Figuring voltage drops across both resistors (E=IR). but with a new (much larger!) dropping resistor in place. we can use a table to calculate resistance in the two-resistor series circuit (no diode). At least 12. In summary. it will draw too much current. being in parallel with the load resistance. it would “see” 224 mV across it as well. The analytical technique of removing a zener diode from a circuit and seeing whether or not enough voltage is present to make it conduct is a sound one. When the zener diode stops conducting current.5 kΩ. though. we arrive at 44.776 volts and 224 mV.

889 kΩ.6 volts: With 45 volts of total voltage and 12.6 volts.values of total voltage and dropping resistor resistance. the load voltage will be regulated to a maximum of 12.6 volts across it. giving us 38. . the current is equal through all components at any given time: Calculating load resistance is now a simple matter of Ohm's Law (R = E/I).6 volts across the load. Any load resistance smaller than 38. and calculating for an expected load voltage of 12.6 volts for any load resistance greater than 38.4 volts across Rdropping: With 32.889 kΩ. we should have 32. diode or no diode.4 volts across the dropping resistor.889 kΩ will result in a load voltage less than 12. there will be 12. if the load resistance is exactly 38. the current through it will be 324 µA: Being a series circuit. and 100 kΩ worth of resistance in it. diode or no diode. With the diode in place.889 kΩ: Thus.

The higher-value dropping resistor gave us less power dissipation. The wattage corresponds to die and package size.9V 7.1V 10V 20V 39V 75V 5. This is analogous to regulating the speed of an automobile by braking rather than by varying the throttle position: not only is it wasteful.8V 13V 30V 3.1V 18V 100V 200V . Common zener diode voltages 0. small zener-based circuits are often used to provide a “reference” voltage to drive a more efficient amplifier circuit controlling the main power.With the original value of 1 kΩ for the dropping resistor. other voltage-regulating techniques are applied.6V 11V 22V 43V 6.6V 6.3V 6.3W parts.7V 9. If we wish to regulate voltage for low-value load resistances. the circuit must be prepared to handle higher power dissipation. But even then. at the expense of raising the acceptable minimum load resistance value. In high-power applications where the inefficiencies would be unacceptable. What we see is a tradeoff between power dissipation and acceptable load resistance.2V 12V 24V 47V 6. Zener diodes regulate voltage by acting as complementary loads.2V 16V 33V 62V 3. The table “Common zener diode voltages” lists common voltages for 0.8V 13V 27V 51V 7.0V 5.1V 10V 20V 1. Zener diodes are manufactured in standard voltage ratings listed in Table below.7V 9.7V 5. and is the power that the diode may dissipate without damage. Despite this fundamental inefficiency of design.2V 12V 27V 3.5W 2.3W 4.3W and 1.6V 11V 24V 3. but the brakes must be built to handle all the engine's power when the driving conditions don't demand it.2V 16V 4.1V 18V 36V 68V 5.3V 8. drawing more or less current as necessary to ensure a constant voltage drop across the load.5V 15V 4. our regulator circuit was able to adequately regulate voltage even for a load resistance as low as 500 Ω. zener diode regulator circuits are widely employed due to their sheer simplicity.5V 15V 30V 56V 8.

For a positive half-cycle.model diode d bv=10 . or zener voltage at which they begin to conduct substantial reverse current.end <> Zener diode clipper: The zener breakdown voltage for the diodes is set at 10 V by the diode model parameter “bv=10” in the spice net list in Figure above. The resistor limits current drawn by the zeners to a safe value. <> *SPICE 03445. A zener diode may function as a voltage regulator by acting as an accessory load. Similar negative half-cycle clipping occurs a -10. a more accurate clipping level is 10+0. breaking down at the zener voltage of 10 V. Discuss this topic | Feedback «Previous Page | Next Page» • . (Figure below) shows the clipping level at a little over ±10 V. The back-to-back diodes clip both peaks.Zener diode clipper: A clipping circuit which clips the peaks of waveform a approximately the zener voltage of the diodes. The circuit of Figure below has two zeners connected series opposing to symmetrically clip a waveform at nearly the Zener voltage.7 V since it is forward biased. and less if it is too low.0k V1 1 0 SIN(0 20 1k) . The lower zener drops approximately 0.eps D1 4 0 diode D2 4 2 diode R1 2 1 1.7=10.001m 2m . the top zener is reverse biased.7V.7 V. Thus. This causes the zeners to clip at about 10 V. stable breakdown. • • REVIEW: Zener diodes are designed to be operated in reverse-bias mode.tran 0. providing a relatively low. drawing more current from the source if the voltage is too high. Zener diode clipper: v(1) input is clipped at waveform v(2).

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