Reverse Breakdown Voltage of Diode

The reverse breakdown voltage of a diode is defined as the minimum voltage applied in the reverse direction across a diode that causes it to conduct a substantial reverse current. This voltage represents the threshold at which the diode’s internal structure begins to break down, allowing current to flow in the opposite direction to its intended forward direction. The reverse breakdown is characterized either by the Zener effect in heavily doped diodes at lower voltages or by avalanche breakdown in lightly doped diodes at higher voltages. Both phenomena result in a significant increase in reverse current under high reverse voltage conditions.

Diodes are typically designed to allow current to flow in one direction. However, under certain conditions involving reverse voltage, diodes can exhibit a behavior known as reverse breakdown. While potentially destructive, this phenomenon can also be harnessed for beneficial purposes in specific applications. This article explains the concept of reverse breakdown voltage in diodes, its implications, and its uses in electronics.

What is Reverse Breakdown Voltage?

Reverse breakdown voltage is the specific voltage at which a diode begins to conduct in the reversed bias, allowing a significant amount of reverse current to flow. This condition occurs when the voltage applied across the diode in the reverse direction ( negative voltage to the anode and positive voltage to the cathode) exceeds a threshold that the diode can withstand without undergoing physical or electrical damage under normal circumstances.


Mechanisms of Reverse Breakdown

The reverse breakdown of a diode typically occurs due to one of two phenomena:

  1. Zener Breakdown: This type of breakdown occurs predominantly in Zener diodes at relatively low reverse voltages and involves quantum mechanical tunneling, where electrons pass through a potential barrier in the junction. The diode remains in a healthy condition even after experiencing zener breakdown.
  2. Avalanche Breakdown: This type of breakdown occurs at higher voltages when the electric field is strong enough to free valence electrons. These electrons collide with other atoms to create additional carriers, resulting in a chain reaction. After going into avalanche breakdown, the diode becomes defective.

Factors Influencing Reverse Breakdown Voltage

The following factors affect the reverse breakdown voltage of a diode.

  • Material: Different semiconductor materials have different intrinsic breakdown voltages.
  • Doping Levels: The concentration of dopants in the semiconductor affects the width of the depletion region and, therefore, the voltage at which breakdown occurs.
  • Temperature: Higher temperatures can lower the breakdown voltage due to increased carrier activity.
  • Diode Construction: The physical dimensions and structure of the diode also play a crucial role.

Applications of Reverse Breakdown

While reverse breakdown can be a failure mode in standard diodes, it is desirable in certain diodes. Here are some applications:

  • Voltage Regulation: Zener diodes are designed to exploit the sharp breakdown voltage characteristic to regulate voltage, maintaining a constant voltage over a wide range of currents.
  • Surge Protection: Avalanche diodes are used in circuits to protect against voltage spikes. They can safely dissipate sudden high voltage, protecting sensitive components.
  • Voltage Referencing: Zener diodes are commonly used to provide reference voltages in circuits due to their stable breakdown voltages.

Design and Safety Considerations

In designing electronic circuits, it is crucial to consider the reverse breakdown characteristics to avoid unwanted diode failure:

  • Choosing the Right Diode: Depending on the application, choosing between a standard diode, a Zener diode, or an avalanche diode is critical based on the expected operating conditions.
  • Heat Management: Since breakdown can generate significant heat, appropriate thermal management strategies must be employed.
  • Circuit Design: Incorporating resistors and other protective elements can help manage the impact of reverse breakdown on other circuit components.


The reverse breakdown voltage of a diode is a key parameter that defines its behavior under reverse bias conditions. Understanding this characteristic helps in effectively utilizing diodes in various applications, from voltage regulation to circuit protection. By selecting the appropriate diode and designing circuits with reverse breakdown characteristics in mind, engineers can ensure both functionality and durability in their electronic devices.

  1. Diode Ideality Factor
  2. Zener Diode
  3. Varactor Diode
  4. Diffusion capacitance of diode
  5. Depletion Region in PN junction

Leave a Comment