A device which performs the opposite function (converting DC to AC) is known as an inverter.
When only one diode is used to rectify AC (by blocking the negative or positive portion of the waveform), the difference between the term diode and the term rectifier is merely one of usage, i.e., the term rectifier describes a diode that is being used to convert AC to DC. Almost all rectifiers comprise a number of diodes in a specific arrangement for more efficiently converting AC to DC than is possible with only one diode. Before the development of silicon semiconductor rectifiers, vacuum tube diodes and copper(I) oxide or selenium rectifier stacks were used.
Early radio receivers, called crystal radios, used a "cat's whisker" of fine wire pressing on a crystal of galena (lead sulfide) to serve as a point-contact rectifier or "crystal detector". In gas heating systems flame rectification can be used to detect a flame. Two metal electrodes in the outer layer of the flame provide a current path and rectification of an applied alternating voltage, but only while the flame is present.
A full-wave rectifier converts the whole of the input waveform to one of constant polarity (positive or negative) at its output. Full-wave rectification converts both polarities of the input waveform to DC (direct current), and is more efficient. However, in a circuit with a non-center tapped transformer, four diodes are required instead of the one needed for half-wave rectification. (See semiconductors, diode). Four rectifiers arranged this way are called a diode bridge or bridge rectifier:
For single-phase AC, if the transformer is center-tapped, then two diodes back-to-back (i.e. anodes-to-anode or cathode-to-cathode) form a full-wave rectifier (in this case, the voltage is half of that for the non-tapped bridge circuit above, and the diagram voltages are not to scale).
A very common vacuum tube rectifier configuration contained one cathode and twin anodes inside a single envelope; in this way, the two diodes required only one vacuum tube. The 5U4 and 5Y3 were popular examples of this configuration.
For three-phase AC, six diodes are used. Typically there are three pairs of diodes, each pair, though, is not the same kind of double diode that would be used for a full wave single-phase rectifier. Instead the pairs are in series (anode to cathode). Typically, commercially available double diodes have four terminals so the user can configure them as single-phase split supply use, for half a bridge, or for three-phase use.
Most devices that generate alternating current (such devices are called alternators) generate three-phase AC. For example, an automobile alternator has six diodes inside it to function as a full-wave rectifier for battery charging applications.'''
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. In extreme cases where many rectifiers are loaded onto a power distribution circuit, it may prove difficult for the power distribution authority to maintain a correctly shaped sinusoidal voltage curve.
For a given tolerable ripple 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 and this is the best that can be done with single-phase input. For three-phase inputs a three-phase bridge will give six peaks per cycle and even 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 this ripple, a capacitor-input filter can be used. This complements the reservoir capacitor with a choke 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.
If the DC load is very demanding of a smooth supply voltage, a voltage regulator will be used either instead of or in addition to the capacitor-input filter, both to remove the last of the ripple and to deal with variations in supply and load characteristics.
A variant of this is to use two capacitors in series for the output smoothing on a bridge rectifier then place a switch between the midpoint of those capacitors and one of the AC input terminals. With the switch open this circuit will act like a normal bridge rectifier with it closed it will act like a voltage doubling rectifier. In other words this makes it easy to derive a voltage of roughly 320V (+/- around 15%) DC from any mains supply in the world, this can then be fed into a relatively simple switched mode power supply.
Cascaded stages of diodes and capacitors can be added to make a voltage multiplier. These circuits can provide a potential several times that of the peak value of the input AC, although limited in current output and regulation. Voltage multipliers are used to provide the high voltage for a CRT in a television receiver, or for powering high-voltage tubes such as image intensifiers or photomultipliers.
Converting DC voltage from one level to another is much more complicated. One method of such DC-to-DC conversion is to first convert to AC (using a device called an inverter), then use a transformer to change the voltage, and finally rectify it back to DC.
Rectifiers also find a use in detection of amplitude modulated radio signals. The signal may or may not be amplified before detection but if unamplified a very low voltage drop diode must be used. When using a rectifier for demodulation the capacitor and load resistance must be carefully matched. Too low a capacitance will result in the high frequency carrier passing to the output and too high will result in the capacitor just charging and staying charged.
Rectifiers are also used to supply polarised voltage for welding. In such circuits control of the output current is required and this is sometimes achieved by replacing some of the diodes in bridge rectifier with thyristors, whose voltage output can be regulated by means of phase fired controllers.
Thyristors are used in various classes of roling stock on various railway systems (Class 315,321,322 for example) in Thyristor Bridge rectifiers so that fine control of the traction motors can be achieved.
Gate Turn Off Thyristors (GTO) are used to produce Alternating Current from a DC supply, this is used on the Eurostar Trains to power the 3 phase traction motors.
Mechanical rectification systems usually rely on some form of rotation or resonant vibration in order to move quickly enough to match the frequency of the input power source, and cannot operate beyond several thousand cycles per second.
Due to the complexity of mechanical systems, they have traditionally needed a high level of maintenance to keep operating correctly. Moving parts will have friction, which requires lubrication and replacement due to wear. Opening mechanical contacts under load results in electrical arcs and sparks that heat and erode the contacts.
The rectification action is due to a thin coating of aluminum hydroxide on the aluminum electrode, formed by first applying a strong current to the cell to build up the coating. The rectification process is temperature sensitive, and for best efficiency should not operate above 86 °F (30 °C). There is also a breakdown voltage where the coating is penetrated and the cell is short-circuited. electrochemical methods are often more fragile than mechanical methods, and can be sensitive to usage variations which can drastically change or completely disrupt the rectification processes.
Similar electrolytic devices were used as lightning arresters around the same era by suspending many aluminium cones in a tank of tri-ammomium ortho-phosphate solution. Unlike the rectifier, above, only aluminium electrodes were used, and used on A.C., there was no polarization and thus no rectifier action, but the chemistry was similar. .
The modern electrolytic capacitor, an essential component of most rectifier circuit configurations was also developed from this aluminium, ammomium ortho-phosphate chemistry, and although the solution is soaked into paper in modern electrolytic capacitors, some old models from the 1930s contain the free liquid solution, and if the capacitor is shaken the solution can be heard sloshing about inside. The dielectric of these capacitors consists of a tenacious layer of aluminium hydroxy-oxide adhering to the anode, (positive electrode), and maintained by the chemical action of the electrolyte and applied voltage. For this reason it is important that the polarity of the applied voltage across the electrolytic capacitor is correct and matches the markings on the can, otherwise the capacitor will depolarize and the aluminium anode inside will lose its insulating dielectric layer. The capacitor will then start conducting D.C. current. producing oxygen and hydrogen gases inside by electrochemical oxidation-reduction reactions, which can lead to the can of the capacitor bursting. Most modern electrolytic capacitors are designed to accommodate this eventuality, but older models can explode, ejecting the can with some velocity.
Electrolytic capacitors find extensive use as reservoir capacitors, filter capacitors or smoothing capacitors, placed across the DC output of the rectifier.
These devices can be used at power levels of hundreds of kilowatts, and may be built to handle one to six phases of AC current. Mercury arc rectifiers have largely been replaced by silicon semiconductor rectifiers from the mid 1970s onward. The most powerful mercury arc rectifiers ever built were installed in the Manitoba Hydro Nelson River Bipole HVDC project, with a combined rating of more than one million kilowatts and 450,000 volts.
Typically these rectifiers were made up of stacks of metal plates or washers, held together by a central bolt, with the number of stacks determined by voltage; each cell was rated for about 20 volts. An automotive battery charger rectifier might have only one cell; the high-voltage power supply for a vacuum tube might have dozens of stacked plates. Current density in an air-cooled selenium stack was about 600 mA per square inch of active area (about 90 mA per square centimeter).
US Patent Issued to Ricoh on May 10 for "Smoothing Circuit Employing Charging Circuit Intermittently Charging When Input Voltage is Higher Relatively Than Terminal Voltage and Discharging Circuit Intermittently Releasing Discharging Current When Terminal Voltage is Higher Relatively Than Input Voltage" (Japanese Inventor)
May 13, 2011; ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 13 -- United States Patent no. RE42,334, issued on May 10, was assigned to Ricoh Co. Ltd. (Tokyo)....