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Home / Technical Articles / Power Semiconductor Device – Transistor
Power Semiconductor Device - Transistor
Power Semiconductor Device - Transistor (on photo: Tunnelling transistor based on vertical graphene heterostructures; credit: L. Britnel et al./Science)


Power transistors are used in applications ranging from a few to several hundred kilowatts and switching frequencies up to about 10 kHz. Power transistors used in power conversion applications are generally npn type. The power transistor is turned on by supplying sufficient base current, and this base drive has to be maintained throughout its conduction period.

It is turned off by removing the base drive and making the base voltage slightly negative (within –VBE(max)).

The saturation voltage of the device is normally 0.5 to 2.5 V and increases as the current increases. Hence, the on-state losses increase more than proportionately with current. The transistor off-state losses are much lower than the on-state losses because the leakage current of the device is of the order of a few milliamperes.


Because of relatively larger switching times, the switching loss significantly increases with switching frequency. Power transistors can block only forward voltages. The reverse peak voltage rating of these devices is as low as 5 to 10 V.

Power transistors do not have I2t withstand capability. In other words, they can absorb only very little energy before breakdown. Therefore, they cannot be protected by semiconductor fuses, and thus an electronic protection method has to be used. To eliminate high base current requirements, Darlington configurations are commonly used. They are available in monolithic or in isolated packages. The basic Darlington configuration is shown schematically in Figure 1.

The Darlington configuration presents a specific advantage in that it can considerably increase the current switched by the transistor for a given base drive.
Figure-1 - A two-stage Darlington transistor with bypass diode.
Figure-1 - A two-stage Darlington transistor with bypass diode.

The VCE(sat) for the Darlington is generally more than that of a single transistor of similar rating with corresponding increase in on-state power loss.

During switching, the reverse-biased collector junction may show hot-spot breakdown effects that are specified by reverse-bias safe operating area (RBSOA) and forward-bias safe operating area (FBSOA).

Modern devices with highly interdigited emitter base geometry force more uniform current distribution and therefore considerably improve secondary breakdown effects. Normally, a well-designed switching aid network constrains the device operation well within the SOAs.

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SOURCE: Kaushik Rajashekara – Delphi Automotive Systems

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Edvard Csanyi

Electrical engineer, programmer and founder of EEP. Highly specialized for design of LV/MV switchgears and LV high power busbar trunking (<6300A) in power substations, commercial buildings and industry facilities. Professional in AutoCAD programming.

One Comment

  1. Jelena
    Oct 30, 2011

    Thank you Edvard on this article, very nice described.

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