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What is Negative Voltage?

Negative voltage in a circuit is voltage that is more negative in polarity when compared to the ground of the circuit. A voltage source has positive or negative polarity depending on its orientation in a circuit. In the case when a voltage source has negative voltage, it just means the voltage source is more negative than the ground of the circuit. If you have a battery inserted the correct way in a circuit, it normally is in its positive orientation and it supplies positive voltage to the circuit. It will produce a current through the positive part of the circuit and then go down to ground and back to the negative part of the battery, and the cycle goes on over and over again. However, if you now flip the battery around to its other end, it will now have the opposite orientation, negative orientation, in the circuit. If a battery is inserted in a circuit with its positive orientation in which it produces current to the positive part of a circuit and it's now flipped around to the other side, it will now produce current to the ground of the circuit instead of the positive part of the circuit. This is all negative voltage means, a polarity switch of the battery from its positive orientation to its opposite side, its negative orientation. Think of when you put in batteries in a nintendo gameboy. If you put in alive batteries the correct way, the gameboy will have power and it can be turned on. But when you put in the batteries the wrong way, it will not start and power on. When batteries are put in the correct way, the voltage source delivers current to the positive part of the circuit, which the circuit needs to turn on. However, when batteries are put in on the wrong side, with negative polarity, the voltage source delivers current the other way, to the ground of the circuit rather the positive part. Current is not useful this way, and if the circuit isn't equipped with protective diodes, in fact, it could destroy parts of the circuit. Being that the voltage source delivers power to the ground rather than the positive part of the circuit which needs power, the circuit will not turn on. A way to measure the voltage orientation in a circuit is by using a multimeter placed on the voltmeter settings. Place the ground test lead of the multimeter on the side of the battery that touches ground or any part of ground in the circuit, since they're all common, and place the positive test lead of the multimeter on the lead of the battery that makes contact with the positive side of the circuit. By doing this, you can tell whether the battery has positive or negative orientation in a circuit. If a battery has positive orientation, its voltage with respect to ground is more positive than ground, and it delivers current to the positive part of a circuit. If a battery has negative orientation, its voltage with respect to ground is more negative than ground, and it delivers positive current to the ground part of a circuit.

Why Telephones Use Negative Forty-Eight Volts DC

by Matthew Smith August 11th, 2006 10 Comments

If youve been following the random stories throughout the site, you might just remember a mention of my summer co-op job at Emerson Network Power (if not, you can refer to this post). The summer has gone well; Ive made some cash, learned some new tricks, and added a nice new section to my resume. However, there was one little problem that arose All telephony equipment operates on negative forty-eight volt DC power systems. I was introduced to this fact of life at the beginning of the summer, and I found it very odd. Not the fact that its forty-eight volts or that its DC, but that its negative (the positive terminals of the batteries are ground). Why the heck was that voltage negative? Anyway, summer continued, I got busy, and I forgot about this little question. Fast forward to the end of summer I was sitting in on a division meeting listening to the engineers discuss various aspects of the projects they were working on, when suddenly my supervisor turned to me and asked So what have you learned this summer? Caught off guard, I immediately turn red and began to stammer something about AutoCAD and plant operations and Pro Engineer when he cuts me off and says, No, what did you learn? So then I mumbled something about how telephones and telecommunications networks work, and in doing so, mentioned the oddity of that negative voltage. Immediately he went Ah ha! And just like that I had a new research assignment. After a few days of poring over large communications theory books, searching the Internet, and scratching my head, I knew why the power system was forty-eight volts DC, but no idea why it was negative. After about week of searching, I finally broke down and asked; here is what I learned. Telephony equipment uses forty-eight volts DC for very simple reasons: DC does not introduce noise on the line and is easily produced from regular lead-acid (vehicle) batteries which just happen to come in twelve-volt increments (due to the chemical properties of the battery). Forty-eight volts is high enough to be efficient while still being considered a safe low voltage and being a multiple of twelve (four batteries make up one string). The negative polarity is much more elusive, but can be summed up in one word: corrosion. Thanks to a bit of research performed by Sir Humphry Davy for the British Navy, we have a technology known as cathodic protection. First developed to keep the copper hulls of British naval ships from corroding, this technology has been applied to protecting everything from oilrigs to gas pipelines to telephony cabinets. By keeping the cabinet frame at a more positive voltage than ground, corrosion is reduced and the life of the equipment is increased. Who would have guessed?