Rectifier output s
While half-wave and full-wave rectification can deliver unidirectional current, neither produces a constant voltage. In order to produce steady DC from a rectified AC supply, a smoothing circuit or filter is required. In its simplest form this can be just a reservoir capacitor or smoothing capacitor, placed at the DC output of the rectifier. There will still be an AC ripple voltage component at the power supply frequency for a half-wave rectifier, twice that for full-wave, where the voltage is not completely smoothed.
Sizing of the capacitor represents a tradeoff. For a given load, a larger capacitor will reduce ripple but will cost more and will create higher peak currents in the transformer secondary and in the supply feeding it. The peak current is set in principle by the rate of rise of the supply voltage on the rising edge of the incoming sine-wave, but in practice it is reduced by the resistance of the transformer windings. In extreme cases where many rectifiers are loaded onto a power distribution circuit, peak currents may cause difficulty in maintaining a correctly shaped sinusoidal voltage on the ac supply.
To limit ripple to a specified value the required capacitor size is proportional to the load current and inversely proportional to the supply frequency and the number of output peaks of the rectifier per input cycle. The load current and the supply frequency are generally outside the control of the designer of the rectifier system but the number of peaks per input cycle can be affected by the choice of rectifier design.
A half-wave rectifier will only give one peak per cycle and for this and other reasons is only used in very small power supplies. A full wave rectifier achieves two peaks per cycle, the best possible with a single-phase input. For three-phase inputs a three-phase bridge will give six peaks per cycle; higher numbers of peaks can be achieved by using transformer networks placed before the rectifier to convert to a higher phase order.
To further reduce ripple, a capacitor-input filter can be used. This complements the reservoir capacitor with a choke (inductor) and a second filter capacitor, so that a steadier DC output can be obtained across the terminals of the filter capacitor. The choke presents a high impedance to the ripple current. For use at power-line frequencies inductors require cores of iron or other magnetic materials, and add weight and size. Their use in power supplies for electronic equipment has therefore dwindled in favour of semiconductor circuits such as voltage regulators.
A more usual alternative to a filter, and essential if the DC load requires very low ripple voltage, is to follow the reservoir capacitor with an active voltage regulator circuit. The reservoir capacitor needs to be large enough to prevent the troughs of the ripple dropping below the minimum voltage required by the regulator to produce the required output voltage. The regulator serves both to significantly reduce the ripple and to deal with variations in supply and load characteristics. It would be possible to use a smaller reservoir capacitor (these can be large on high-current power supplies) and then apply some filtering as well as the regulator, but this is not a common strategy. The extreme of this approach is to dispense with the reservoir capacitor altogether and put the rectified waveform straight into a choke-input filter. The advantage of this circuit is that the current waveform is smoother and consequently the rectifier no longer has to deal with the current as a large current pulse, but instead the current delivery is spread over the entire cycle. The disadvantage, apart from extra size and weight, is that the voltage output is much lower – approximately the average of an AC half-cycle rather than the peak.