Question
Sun November 18, 2012 By: Abhinav Sharma
 

why zener diode is always used as reverse biased?

Expert Reply
Sun November 18, 2012

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 VB 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 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 current now flowing through the zener diode increases dramatically to the maximum circuit value (which is usually limited by a series resistor) and once achived this reverse saturation current remains fairly constant over a wide range of applied voltages. This breakdown voltage point, VB is called the "zener voltage" for zener diodes and 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 I-V Characteristics

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