V-I Characteristics of P-N Junction Diode Notes for Electronics Engineering 1st Year

P-N Junction Diode:

A P-N Junction Diode is one of the simplest semiconductor devices around, and which has the characteristic of passing current in only one direction only. However, unlike a resistor, a diode does not behave linearly with respect to the applied voltage as the diode has an exponential current-voltage ( I-V ) relationship.

Fig.1. P-N Junction Diode

Junction Diode Symbol and Static I-V Characteristics:

Fig.2. V-I Characteristics of p-n junction

There are two operating regions and three possible “biasing” conditions for the standard Junction Diode and these are:

  • 1. Zero Bias – No external voltage potential is applied to the PN junction diode.
  • 2. Reverse Bias – The voltage potential is connected negative, (-ve) to the P-type material and positive, (+ve) to the N-type material across the diode which has the effect of Increasing the PN junction diode’s width.
  • 3. Forward Bias – The voltage potential is connected positive, (+ve) to the P-type material and negative, (-ve) to the N-type material across the diode which has the effect of Decreasing the PN junction diodes width.

Zero Biased Junction Diode:

When a diode is connected in a Zero Bias condition, no external potential energy is applied to the PN junction. However if the diode terminals are shorted together, a few holes (majority carriers) in the P-type material with enough energy to overcome the potential barrier will move across the junction against this barrier potential. This is known as the “Forward Current” and is referenced as IF.

Likewise, holes generated in the N-type material (minority carriers), find this situation favorable and move across the junction in the opposite direction. This is known as the “Reverse Current” and is referenced as IR. This transfer of electrons and holes back and forth across the PN junction is known as diffusion, as shown below.

Fig.3. Zero Biased p-n junction

The potential barrier that now exists discourages the diffusion of any more majority carriers across the junction. However, the potential barrier helps minority carriers (few free electrons in the P-region and few holes in the N-region) to drift across the junction.

Then an “Equilibrium” or balance will be established when the majority carriers are equal and both moving in opposite directions, so that the net result is zero current flowing in the circuit. When this occurs the junction is said to be in a state of “Dynamic Equilibrium“.

The minority carriers are constantly generated due to thermal energy so this state of equilibrium can be broken by raising the temperature of the PN junction causing an increase in the generation of minority carriers, thereby resulting in an increase in leakage current but an electric current cannot flow since no circuit has been connected to the PN junction.

Reverse Biased P-N Junction Diode:

When a diode is connected in a Reverse Bias condition, a positive voltage is applied to the N-type material and a negative voltage is applied to the P-type material.

The positive voltage applied to the N-type material attracts electrons towards the positive electrode and away from the junction, while the holes in the P-type end are also attracted away from the junction towards the negative electrode.

The net result is that the depletion layer grows wider due to a lack of electrons and holes and presents a high impedance path, almost an insulator. The result is that a high potential barrier is created thus preventing current from flowing through the semiconductor material.

Increase in the Depletion Layer due to Reverse Bias

Fig.4. Reverse Biased p-n junction

This condition represents a high resistance value to the P-N junction and practically zero current flows through the junction diode with an increase in bias voltage. However, a very small leakage current does flow through the junction which can be measured in micro-amperes, ( μA ).

One final point, if the reverse bias voltage Vr applied to the diode is increased to a sufficiently high enough value, it will cause the diode’s PN junction to overheat and fail due to the avalanche effect around the junction. This may cause the diode to become shorted and will result in the flow of maximum circuit current, and this shown as a step downward slope in the reverse static characteristics curve below

Reverse Characteristics Curve for a Junction Diode:

Sometimes this avalanche effect has practical applications in voltage stabilizing circuits where a series limiting resistor is used with the diode to limit this reverse breakdown current to a preset maximum value thereby producing a fixed voltage output across the diode. These types of diodes are commonly known as Zener Diodes and are discussed in a later tutorial.

Forward-Biased P-N Junction Diode:

When a diode is connected in a Forward Bias condition, a negative voltage is applied to the N-type material and a positive voltage is applied to the P-type material. If this external voltage becomes greater than the value of the potential barrier, approx. 0.7 volts for silicon and 0.3 volts for germanium, the potential barriers opposition will be overcome and current will start to flow.

This is because the negative voltage pushes or repels electrons towards the junction giving them the energy to cross over and combine with the holes being pushed in the opposite direction towards the junction by the positive voltage. This results in a characteristics curve of zero current flowing up to this voltage point, called the “knee” on the static curves and then a high current flow through the diode with little increase in the external voltage as shown below.

Forward Characteristics Curve for a Junction Diode

The application of a forward biasing voltage on the junction diode results in the depletion layer becoming very thin and narrow which represents a low impedance path through the junction thereby allowing high currents to flow. The point at which this sudden increase in current takes place is represented on the static I-V characteristics curve above as the “knee” point.

Junction Diode Ideal and Real Characteristics:

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