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What is the effect of temperature on the breakdown voltage of zener diodes?

1 Answer

The breakdown voltage of a zener diode is a critical parameter that defines its operation in the reverse-biased breakdown region. The breakdown voltage, also known as the zener voltage, is the voltage at which the zener diode starts conducting in the reverse direction and maintains a relatively constant voltage drop across its terminals.

The breakdown voltage of a zener diode can be affected by temperature in the following ways:

Negative Temperature Coefficient: Zener diodes typically exhibit a negative temperature coefficient. This means that as the temperature increases, the breakdown voltage decreases, and vice versa. This effect is due to the underlying physical mechanisms governing the breakdown process, such as the temperature dependence of the bandgap of the semiconductor material used in the diode.

Thermal Runaway: When a zener diode operates at high currents and experiences a significant power dissipation, it can heat up. Elevated temperatures can lead to a phenomenon called "thermal runaway." In thermal runaway, the increased temperature causes a higher reverse current, which, in turn, leads to further heating and a decrease in breakdown voltage. This can be detrimental to the stability and reliability of the diode.

Temperature Coefficient: Manufacturers provide a parameter known as the "temperature coefficient of voltage" (TCV) or "temperature coefficient of zener voltage" for a zener diode. This coefficient specifies the rate of change in breakdown voltage with respect to temperature. For example, a TCV of -2 mV/°C means that the breakdown voltage decreases by 2 millivolts for every degree Celsius increase in temperature.

Operating Range: The operating temperature range for zener diodes is usually provided by the manufacturer. Beyond this range, the diode may not function as intended, and its breakdown voltage might deviate significantly from the nominal value.

In summary, temperature has a significant effect on the breakdown voltage of zener diodes. Manufacturers consider these temperature effects when specifying the performance and stability of zener diodes in various applications. Engineers and designers should also account for these temperature-related characteristics when using zener diodes in their circuits to ensure proper and reliable operation.
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