Apr 012015
 

Voltage Regulator with current limiter using transistor and Zener diode

There are times when the amount of current that is required of a power supply exceeds its potential. If the current demand is very high, the pass transistor of the voltage regulator may be damaged. On these cases it is necessary that the circuit has an overcurrent protection.

The circuit shown, limit the current to a safe level. We have included a transistor and an additional resistor to the original circuit. When the voltage regulator is working, the current that passes through the load, also passes through the resistor R.

The voltage across the resistor R is: VR = I x R (Ohm’s law), and is the same voltage of the base-emitter junction of transistor T2. The resistor R has a preset fixed value. The only situation that can make the VR voltage change, is a change on the load current that pass through the resistor R.

Voltage Regulator with current limiter

While the voltage across the resistor is below 0.7 volts, the transistor T2 is off and the voltage source works normally. If there is an increase of the load current (IL), the voltage drop across resistor R, increases and when it reaches 0.7 volts, the transistor T2 start to conduct.

The collector of transistor T2 is connected to the base of transistor T1, which is the pass transistor of the regulator.

When the electric current in the load rises above a maximum value, the transistor T2 begins to conduct and takes a bit of the base current of transistor T1, this in turn reduces the collector current IL (load current).

Note: Remember that Ic = β Ib. For a fixed β, if we decrease the base current (Ib), we decrease the collector current (Ic)

We can design a voltage regulator circuit like this for a defined maximum current load.

For example:

We want to design a Voltage Regulator with current limiter. The maximum allowable current is 0.5 amps.

We know that the base-emitter voltage (Vbe) of transistor T2 is 0.7 volts and the allowed maximum current is 0.5 amps. The resistor to be used, to achieve our goal is:

R = Vbe / ILmax = 0.7 V / 0.5 Amp. = 1.4 ohms. We can use a 1.5 ohm resistor.

The power of the resistor is: (Joule’s Law)

P = I2 x R = 0.52 x 1.5 = 0.375 watts. We can use a 1.5 ohm, ½ watt resistor.

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