Schottky Barrier Diode: Tutorial

- the Schottky Barrier Diode is used for its low turn-on voltage; fast recover time; and low junction capacitance in applications from power rectification to RF signal applications, and logic.

The Schottky diode or Schottky Barrier diode is an electronics component that is widely used for radio frequency, RF applications as a mixer or detector diode.

The diode is also used in power applications as a rectifier, again because of its low forward voltage drop leading to lower levels of power loss compared to ordinary PN junction diodes.

Although normally called the Schottky diode these days, named after Schottky, it is also sometimes referred to as the surface barrier diode, hot carrier diode or even hot electron diode.


Discover & introduction

Despite the fact that Schottky barrier diodes have many applications in today's high tech electronics scene, it is actually one of the oldest semiconductor devices in existence. As a metal-semiconductor devices, its applications can be traced back to before 1900 where crystal detectors, cat's whisker detectors and the like were all effectively Schottky barrier diodes.


Circuit symbol

The Schottky circuit symbol used in many circuit schematic diagrams may be that of an ordinary diode symbol. However it is often necessary to use a specific Schottky diode symbol to signify that a Schottky diode rather than another one must be used because it is essential to the operation of the circuit. Accordingly a specific Schottky diode symbol has been accepted for use. The circuit symbol is shown below:

Schottky diode symbol
Schottky diode symbol

It can be seen from the circuit symbol that it is based on the normal diode one, but with additional elements to the bar across the triangle shape.


Advantages

Schottky diodes are used in many applications where other types of diode will not perform as well. They offer a number of advantages:

  • Low turn on voltage:   The turn on voltage for the diode is between 0.2 and 0.3 volts for a silicon diode against 0.6 to 0.7 volts for a standard silicon diode. This makes it have very much the same turn on voltage as a germanium diode.
  • Fast recovery time:   The fast recovery time because of the small amount of stored charge means that it can be used for high speed switching applications.
  • Low junction capacitance:   In view of the very small active area, often as a result of using a wire point contact onto the silicon, the capacitance levels are very small.

The advantages of the Schottky diode, mean that its performance can far exceed that of other diodes in many areas.


Applications

The Schottky barrier diodes are widely used in the electronics industry finding many uses as diode rectifier. Its unique properties enable it to be used in a number of applications where other diodes would not be able to provide the same level of performance. In particular it is used in areas including:

  • RF mixer and detector diode:   The Schottky diode has come into its own for radio frequency applications because of its high switching speed and high frequency capability. In view of this Schottky barrier diodes are used in many high performance diode ring mixers. In addition to this their low turn on voltage and high frequency capability and low capacitance make them ideal as RF detectors.
  • Power rectifier:   Schottky barrier diodes are also used in high power applications, as rectifiers. Their high current density and low forward voltage drop mean that less power is wasted than if ordinary PN junction diodes were used. This increase in efficiency means that less heat has to be dissipated, and smaller heat sinks may be able to be incorporated in the design.
  • Power OR circuits:   Schottky diodes can be used in applications where a load is driven by two separate power supplies. One example may be a mains power supply and a battery supply. In these instances it is necessary that the power from one supply does not enter the other. This can be achieved using diodes. However it is important that any voltage drop across the diodes is minimised to ensure maximum efficiency. As in many other applications, this diode is ideal for this in view of its low forward voltage drop.

    Schottky diodes tend to have a high reverse leakage current. This can lead to problems with any sensing circuits that may be in use. Leakage paths into high impedance circuits can give rise to false readings. This must therefore be accommodated in the circuit design.
  • Solar cell applications:   Solar cells are typically connected to rechargeable batteries, often lead acid batteries because power may be required 24 hours a day and the Sun is not always available. Solar cells do not like the reverse charge applied and therefore a diode is required in series with the solar cells. Any voltage drop will result in a reduction in efficiency and therefore a low voltage drop diode is needed. As in other applications, the low voltage drop of the Schottky diode is particularly useful, and as a result they are the favoured form of diode in this application.
  • Clamp diode - especially with its use in LS TTL:   Schottky barrier diodes may also be used as a clamp diode in a transistor circuit to speed the operation when used as a switch. They were used in this role in the 74LS (low power Schottky) and 74S (Schottky) families of logic circuits. In these chips the diodes are inserted between the collector and base of the driver transistor to act as a clamp. To produce a low or logic "0" output the transistor is driven hard on, and in this situation the base collector junction in the diode is forward biased. When the Schottky diode is present this takes most of the current and allows the turn off time of the transistor to be greatly reduced, thereby improving the speed of the circuit.

    An NPN transistor with Schottky diode clamp
    An NPN transistor with Schottky diode clamp

In view of its properties, the Schottky diode finds uses in applications right through from power rectification to uses in clamp diodes in high speed logic devices and then on to high frequency RF applications as signal rectifiers and in mixers.

Their properties span many different types of circuit making them almost unique in the variety of areas and circuits in which they can be used.

By Ian Poole


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