A Zener diode is a type of semiconductor diode specifically designed to operate in reverse-biased mode. Unlike regular diodes, which are primarily used for allowing current flow in one direction (forward-biased), Zener diodes are optimized to conduct current in the reverse direction when a specific voltage, known as the "Zener voltage" or "breakdown voltage," is reached.
The key characteristic of a Zener diode is its ability to maintain a relatively constant voltage across its terminals, even when the current through it changes. This property makes Zener diodes very useful for voltage regulation applications.
Here's how a Zener diode is used in voltage regulation:
Voltage Regulation: When a Zener diode is connected in parallel with a load (e.g., a resistor), it regulates the voltage across the load. The Zener diode acts like a voltage reference or a voltage stabilizer.
Zener Breakdown: The Zener diode is designed to operate in the reverse-biased region, which means the voltage across its terminals is negative compared to the regular forward-biased diode. When the reverse voltage across the Zener diode reaches its specified Zener voltage (Vz), a phenomenon called "Zener breakdown" occurs.
Constant Voltage: Once the Zener breakdown voltage is reached, the Zener diode starts conducting in the reverse direction, allowing current to flow through it. The Zener diode behaves as if it has a nearly constant voltage drop equal to the breakdown voltage (Vz).
Voltage Regulation across the Load: As the current through the load varies, the Zener diode dynamically adjusts its reverse current to maintain a relatively constant voltage drop across itself, and thus, across the load. This effectively stabilizes the voltage at the Zener diode's breakdown voltage.
Protection: Zener diodes are also used as protection devices in electronic circuits. When connected in parallel with a sensitive component, they can prevent voltage spikes from damaging the component by shunting excess voltage away from it.
In summary, Zener diodes are utilized as voltage regulators in circuits where a constant voltage level is required, and they can provide stable reference voltages for various electronic applications. Their ability to maintain a constant voltage makes them essential components in power supplies, voltage regulators, and protection circuits.