Zener Diode 01 TESLA Institute

The Zener Diode or “Breakdown Diode” as they are sometimes called, are basically the same as the standard PN junction diode but are specially designed to have a low pre-determined Reverse Breakdown Voltage that takes advantage of this high reverse voltage. The zener diode is the simplest types of voltage regulator and the point at which a zener diode breaks down or conducts is called the “Zener Voltage” ( Vz ).

The Zener diode is like a general-purpose signal diode consisting of a silicon PN Junction. When biased in the forward direction it behaves just like a normal signal diode passing the rated current, but as soon as a reverse voltage applied across the Zener Diode exceeds the rated voltage of the device, the diodes breakdown voltage is reached at which point a process called Avalanche Breakdown occurs in the semiconductor depletion layer and a current starts to flow through the diode to limit this increase in voltage.

The current now flowing through the zener diode increases dramatically to the maximum circuit value (which is usually limited by a series resistor) and once achieved this reverse saturation current remains fairly constant over a wide range of applied voltages. The voltage point at which the voltage across the zener diode becomes stable is called the “zener voltage” for zener diodes this voltage can range from less than one volt to hundreds of volts.

The point at which the zener voltage triggers the current to flow through the diode can be very accurately controlled (to less than 1% tolerance) in the doping stage of the diodes semiconductor construction giving the diode a specific zener breakdown voltage, (Vz) for example, 4.3V or 7.5V. This zener breakdown voltage on the I-V curve is almost a vertical straight line.

 

 Zener Diode 02 TESLA Institute

Zener Diode I-V Characteristics

 

The Zener Diode is used in its “reverse bias” or reverse breakdown mode, i.e. the diodes anode connects to the negative supply. From the I-V characteristics curve above, we can see that the zener diode has a region in its reverse bias characteristics of almost a constant negative voltage regardless of the value of the current flowing through the diode and remains nearly constant even with large changes in current as long as the zener diodes current remains between the breakdown current IZ(min) and the maximum current rating IZ(max).

This ability to control itself can be used to great effect to regulate or stabilise a voltage source against supply or load variations. The fact that the voltage across the diode in the breakdown region is almost constant turns out to be an important application of the zener diode as a voltage regulator.

The function of a regulator is to provide a constant output voltage to a load connected in parallel with it in spite of the ripples in the supply voltage or the variation in the load current and the zener diode will continue to regulate the voltage until the diodes current falls below the minimum IZ(min) value in the reverse breakdown region.

 

 

 

 

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