## AC-DC Rectifiers

A rectifier is a circuit which converts the Alternating Current (AC) input power into a Direct Current (DC) output power. The input power supply may be either a single-phase or a multi-phase supply with the simplest of all the rectifier circuits being that of the Half Wave Rectifier.

The power diode in a half wave rectifier circuit passes just one half of each complete sine wave of the AC supply in order to convert it into a DC supply. Then this type of circuit is called a “half-wave” rectifier because it passes only half of the incoming AC power supply as shown below.

Half Wave Rectifier Circuit

During each “positive” half cycle of the AC sine wave, the diode is forward biased as the anode is positive with respect to the cathode resulting in current flowing through the diode.

Since the DC load is resistive (resistor, R), the current flowing in the load resistor is therefore proportional to the voltage (Ohm´s Law), and the voltage across the load resistor will therefore be the same as the supply voltage, Vs (minus Vf), that is the “DC” voltage across the load is sinusoidal for the first half cycle only so Vout = Vs.

During each “negative” half cycle of the AC sinusoidal input waveform, the diode is reverse biased as the anode is negative with respect to the cathode. Therefore, NO current flows through the diode or circuit. Then in the negative half cycle of the supply, no current flows in the load resistor as no voltage appears across it so therefore, Vout = 0.

The current on the DC side of the circuit flows in one direction only making the circuit Unidirectional. As the load resistor receives from the diode a positive half of the waveform, zero volts, a positive half of the waveform, zero volts, etc, the value of this irregular voltage would be equal in value to an equivalent DC voltage of 0.318 x Vmax of the input sinusoidal waveform or 0.45 x Vrms of the input sinusoidal waveform.

Then the equivalent DC voltage, VDC across the load resistor is calculated as follows.

Where Vmax is the maximum or peak voltage value of the AC sinusoidal supply, and VS is the RMS (Root Mean Squared) value of the supply.

Power Diode Example

Calculate the voltage across VDC and the current IDC, flowing through a 100Ω resistor connected to a 240 Vrms single phase half-wave rectifier as shown above. Also calculate the DC power consumed by the load.

During the rectification process the resultant output DC voltage and current are therefore both “ON” and “OFF” during every cycle. As the voltage across the load resistor is only present during the positive half of the cycle (50% of the input waveform), this results in a low average DC value being supplied to the load.

The variation of the rectified output waveform between this “ON” and “OFF” condition produces a waveform which has large amounts of “ripple” which is an undesirable feature. The resultant DC ripple has a frequency that is equal to that of the AC supply frequency.

Very often when rectifying an alternating voltage we wish to produce a “steady” and continuous DC voltage free from any voltage variations or ripple. One way of doing this is to connect a large value Capacitor across the output voltage terminals in parallel with the load resistor as shown below. This type of capacitor is known commonly as a “Reservoir” or Smoothing Capacitor.

Half-wave Rectifier with Smoothing Capacitor

When rectification is used to provide a direct voltage ( DC ) power supply from an alternating ( AC ) source, the amount of ripple voltage can be further reduced by using larger value capacitors but there are limits both on cost and size to the types of smoothing capacitors used.

For a given capacitor value, a greater load current (smaller load resistance) will discharge the capacitor more quickly (RC Time Constant) and so increases the ripple obtained. Then for single phase, half-wave rectifier circuit using a power diode it is not very practical to try and reduce the ripple voltage by capacitor smoothing alone. In this instance it would be more practical to use “Full-wave Rectification” instead.

In practice, the half-wave rectifier is used most often in low-power applications because of their major disadvantages being. The output amplitude is less than the input amplitude, there is no output during the negative half cycle so half the power is wasted and the output is pulsed DC resulting in excessive ripple. To overcome these disadvantages a number of Power Diode are connected together to produce a Full Wave Rectifier.

The Full Wave Rectifier

Previously we discussed ways of reducing the ripple or voltage variations on a direct DC voltage by connecting capacitors across the load resistance. While this method may be suitable for low power applications it is unsuitable to applications which need a “steady and smooth” DC supply voltage. One method to improve on this is to use every half-cycle of the input voltage instead of every other half-cycle. The circuit which allows us to do this is called a Full Wave Rectifier.

Like the half wave circuit, a Full Wave Rectifier Circuit produces an output voltage or current which is purely DC or has some specified DC component. Full wave rectifiers have some fundamental advantages over their half wave rectifier counterparts. The average (DC) output voltage is higher than for half wave, the output of the full wave rectifier has much less ripple than that of the half wave rectifier producing a smoother output waveform.

In a Full Wave Rectifier circuit two diodes are now used, one for each half of the cycle. A multiple winding transformer is used whose secondary winding is split equally into two halves with a common centre tapped connection, (C). This configuration results in each diode conducting in turn when its anode terminal is positive with respect to the transformer centre point C producing an output during both half-cycles, twice that for the half wave rectifier so it is 100% efficient as shown below.

Full Wave Rectifier Circuit

The full wave rectifier circuit consists of two power diodes connected to a single load resistance (RL) with each diode taking it in turn to supply current to the load. When point A of the transformer is positive with respect to point C, diode D1 conducts in the forward direction as indicated by the arrows.

When point B is positive (in the negative half of the cycle) with respect to point C, diode D2 conducts in the forward direction and the current flowing through resistor R is in the same direction for both half-cycles. As the output voltage across the resistor R is the phasor sum of the two waveforms combined, this type of full wave rectifier circuit is also known as a “bi-phase” circuit.

As the spaces between each half-wave developed by each diode is now being filled in by the other diode the average DC output voltage across the load resistor is now double that of the single half-wave rectifier circuit and is about  0.637Vmax  of the peak voltage, assuming no losses.

Where: VMAX is the maximum peak value in one half of the secondary winding and VRMS is the rms value.

The peak voltage of the output waveform is the same as before for the half-wave rectifier provided each half of the transformer windings have the same rms voltage value. To obtain a different DC voltage output different transformer ratios can be used. The main disadvantage of this type of full wave rectifier circuit is that a larger transformer for a given power output is required with two separate but identical secondary windings making this type of full wave rectifying circuit costly compared to the “Full Wave Bridge Rectifier” circuit equivalent.

The Full Wave Bridge Rectifier

Another type of circuit that produces the same output waveform as the full wave rectifier circuit above, is that of the Full Wave Bridge Rectifier. This type of single phase rectifier uses four individual rectifying diodes connected in a closed loop “bridge” configuration to produce the desired output. The main advantage of this bridge circuit is that it does not require a special centre tapped transformer, thereby reducing its size and cost. The single secondary winding is connected to one side of the diode bridge network and the load to the other side as shown below.

The Diode Bridge Rectifier

The four diodes labelled D1 to D4 are arranged in “series pairs” with only two diodes conducting current during each half cycle. During the positive half cycle of the supply, diodes D1 and D2 conduct in series while diodes D3 and D4 are reverse biased and the current flows through the load as shown below.

The Positive Half-cycle

During the negative half cycle of the supply, diodes D3 and D4 conduct in series, but diodes D1 and D2 switch “OFF” as they are now reverse biased. The current flowing through the load is the same direction as before.

The Negative Half-cycle

As the current flowing through the load is unidirectional, so the voltage developed across the load is also unidirectional the same as for the previous two diode full-wave rectifier, therefore the average DC voltage across the load is 0.637Vmax.

Typical Bridge Rectifier

However in reality, during each half cycle the current flows through two diodes instead of just one so the amplitude of the output voltage is two voltage drops (2 x 0.7 = 1.4V) less than the input VMAX amplitude. The ripple frequency is now twice the supply frequency (e.g. 100Hz for a 50Hz supply or 120Hz for a 60Hz supply.)

Although we can use four individual power diodes to make a full wave bridge rectifier, pre-made bridge rectifier components are available “off-the-shelf” in a range of different voltage and current sizes that can be soldered directly into a PCB circuit board or be connected by spade connectors.

The image to the right shows a typical single phase bridge rectifier with one corner cut off. This cut-off corner indicates that the terminal nearest to the corner is the positive or +ve output terminal or lead with the opposite (diagonal) lead being the negative or -ve output lead. The other two connecting leads are for the input alternating voltage from a transformer secondary winding.

The Smoothing Capacitor

We saw in the previous section that the single phase half-wave rectifier produces an output wave every half cycle and that it was not practical to use this type of circuit to produce a steady DC supply. The full-wave bridge rectifier however, gives us a greater mean DC value (0.637 Vmax) with less superimposed ripple while the output waveform is twice that of the frequency of the input supply frequency. We can therefore increase its average DC output level even higher by connecting a suitable smoothing capacitor across the output of the bridge circuit as shown below.

Full-wave Rectifier with Smoothing Capacitor

The smoothing capacitor converts the full-wave rippled output of the rectifier into a smooth DC output voltage. Generally for DC power supply circuits the smoothing capacitor is an Aluminium Electrolytic type that has a capacitance value of 100uF or more with repeated DC voltage pulses from the rectifier charging up the capacitor to peak voltage.

However, their are two important parameters to consider when choosing a suitable smoothing capacitor and these are its Working Voltage, which must be higher than the no-load output value of the rectifier and its Capacitance Value, which determines the amount of ripple that will appear superimposed on top of the DC voltage.

Too low a capacitance value and the capacitor has little effect on the output waveform. But if the smoothing capacitor is sufficiently large enough (parallel capacitors can be used) and the load current is not too large, the output voltage will be almost as smooth as pure DC. As a general rule of thumb, we are looking to have a ripple voltage of less than 100mV peak to peak.

The maximum ripple voltage present for a Full Wave Rectifier circuit is not only determined by the value of the smoothing capacitor but by the frequency and load current, and is calculated as:

Bridge Rectifier Ripple Voltage

Where: I is the DC load current in amps, ƒ is the frequency of the ripple or twice the input frequency in Hertz, and C is the capacitance in Farads.

The main advantages of a full-wave bridge rectifier is that it has a smaller AC ripple value for a given load and a smaller reservoir or smoothing capacitor than an equivalent half-wave rectifier. Therefore, the fundamental frequency of the ripple voltage is twice that of the AC supply frequency (100Hz) where for the half-wave rectifier it is exactly equal to the supply frequency (50Hz).

The amount of ripple voltage that is superimposed on top of the DC supply voltage by the diodes can be virtually eliminated by adding a much improved π-filter (pi-filter) to the output terminals of the bridge rectifier. This type of low-pass filter consists of two smoothing capacitors, usually of the same value and a choke or inductance across them to introduce a high impedance path to the alternating ripple component

Another more practical and cheaper alternative is to use an off the shelf 3-terminal voltage regulator IC, such as a LM78xx (where “xx” stands for the output voltage rating) for a positive output voltage or its inverse equivalent the LM79xx for a negative output voltage which can reduce the ripple by more than 70dB (Datasheet) while delivering a constant output current of over 1 amp.

In the next tutorial about diodes, we will look at the Zener Diode which takes advantage of its reverse breakdown voltage characteristic to produce a constant and fixed output voltage across itself.

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