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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