How full wave rectifier circuit works
In the previous Power Diodes tutorial we discussed ways of reducing the ripple or voltage variations on a direct DC voltage by connecting capacitors across the load resistance. While this method may be suitable for low power applications it is unsuitable to applications which need a "steady and smooth" DC supply voltage. One method to improve on this is to use every half-cycle of the input voltage instead of every other half-cycle. The circuit which allows us to do this is called a Full Wave Rectifier.
Like the half wave circuit, a full wave rectifier circuit produces an output voltage or current which is purely DC or has some specified DC component. Full wave rectifiers have some fundamental advantages over their half wave rectifier counterparts. The average (DC) output voltage is higher than for half wave, the output of the full wave rectifier has much less ripple than that of the half wave rectifier producing a smoother output waveform.
In a Full Wave Rectifier circuit two diodes are now used, one for each half of the cycle. A transformer is used whose secondary winding is split equally into two halves with a common centre tapped connection, (C). This configuration results in each diode conducting in turn when its anode terminal is positive with respect to the transformer centre point C producing an output during both half-cycles, twice that for the half wave rectifier so it is 100% efficient as shown below.
Full Wave Rectifier Circuit
The full wave rectifier circuit consists of two power diodes connected to a single load resistance (RL) with each diode taking it in turn to supply current to the load. When point A of the transformer is positive with respect to point B, diode D1 conducts in the forward direction as indicated by the arrows. When point B is positive (in the negative half of the cycle) with respect to point A, diode D2 conducts in the forward direction and the current flowing through resistor R is in the same direction for both circuits. As the output voltage across the resistor R is the phasor sum of the two waveforms combined, this type of full wave rectifier circuit is also known as a "bi-phase" circuit.
As the spaces between each half-wave developed by each diode is now being filled in by the other diode the average DC output voltage across the load resistor is now double that of the single half-wave rectifier circuit and is about 0.637Vmax of the peak voltage, assuming no losses. However in reality, during each half cycle the current flows through two diodes instead of just one so the amplitude of the output voltage is two voltage drops ( 2 x 0.7 = 1.4V ) less than the input VMAX amplitude.
The peak voltage of the output waveform is the same as before for the half-wave rectifier provided each half of the transformer windings have the same rms voltage value. To obtain a different DC voltage output different transformer ratios can be used. The main disadvantage of this type of full wave rectifier circuit is that a larger transformer for a given power output is required with two separate but identical secondary windings making this type of full wave rectifying circuit costly compared to the "Full Wave Bridge Rectifier" circuit equivalent.
The Full Wave Bridge Rectifier
Another type of circuit that produces the same output waveform as the full wave rectifier circuit above, is that of the Full Wave Bridge Rectifier. This type of single phase rectifier uses four individual rectifying diodes connected in a closed loop "bridge" configuration to produce the desired output. The main advantage of this bridge circuit is that it does not require a special centre tapped transformer, thereby reducing its size and cost. The single secondary winding is connected to one side of the diode bridge network and the load to the other side as shown below.
The Diode Bridge Rectifier
The four diodes labelled D1 to D4 are arranged in "series pairs" with only two diodes conducting current during each half cycle. During the positive half cycle of the supply, diodes D1 and D2 conduct in series while diodes D3 and D4 are reverse biased and the current flows through the load as shown below.
The Positive Half-cycle
During the negative half cycle of the supply, diodes D3 and D4 conduct in series, but diodes D1 and D2 switch of as they are now reverse biased. The current flowing through the load is the same direction as before.
The Negative Half-cycle
As the current flowing through the load is unidirectional, so the voltage developed across the load is also unidirectional the same as for the previous two diode full-wave rectifier, therefore the average DC voltage across the load is 0.637Vmax and the ripple frequency is now twice the supply frequency (e.g. 100Hz for a 50Hz supply).
Typical Bridge Rectifier
Although we can use four individual power diodes to make a full wave bridge rectifier, pre-made bridge rectifier components are available "off-the-shelf" in a range of different voltage and current sizes that can be soldered directly into a PCB circuit board or be connected by spade connectors. The image to the right shows a typical single phase bridge rectifier with one corner cut off. This cut-off corner indicates that the terminal nearest to the corner is the positive or +ve output terminal or lead with the opposite (diagonal) lead being the negative or -ve output lead. The other two connecting leads are for the input alternating voltage from a transformer secondary winding.