Simple reverse-polarity-protection circuit has no voltage drop

Aruna Rubasinghe


Common methods of reverse-voltage protection employ diodes to prevent damage to a circuit. In one approach, a series diode allows current to flow only if the correct polarity is applied (Figure 1). You can also use a diode bridge to rectify the input so that your circuit always receives the correct polarity (Figure 2).

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Simple reverse-polarity-protection circuit has no voltage drop
Figure 1. A series diode protects systems from reverse polarity
but wastes power in diode losses.

The drawback of these approaches is that they waste power in the voltage drop across the diodes. With an input current of 1 A, the circuit in Figure 1 wastes 0.7 W, and the circuit in Figure 2 wastes 1.4 W. This Design Idea suggests a simple method that has no voltage drop or wasted power (Figure 3).

Simple reverse-polarity-protection circuit has no voltage drop
Figure 2. You can use a bridge rectifier so that your system works no
matter what the input polarity is. This circuit wastes twice
the power, in diode losses, of the circuit in Figure 1.

Select a relay to operate with the reverse-polarity voltage. For example, use a 12 V relay for a 12 V supply system. When you apply correct polarity to the circuit, D1 becomes reverse-biased, and the S1 relay remains off. Then connect the input- and output-power lines to the normally connected pins of the relay, so current flows to the end circuit. Diode D1 blocks power to the relay, and the protection circuit dissipates no power.

Simple reverse-polarity-protection circuit has no voltage drop
Figure 3. You can wire a relay switch to pass power to your system with
no power loss. D2 clamps inductive kicks from the relay coil.

When you apply incorrect reversed polarity, diode D1 becomes forward-biased, turning on the relay (Figure 4). Turning on the relay cuts the power supply to the end circuit, and red LED D3 turns on, indicating a reverse voltage. The circuit consumes power only if reverse polarity is applied.

Simple reverse-polarity-protection circuit has no voltage drop
Figure 4. With reversed input voltage, the relay switch engages,
interrupting power to the system, and the LED lights.

Unlike FETs or semiconductor switches, relay contact switches have low on-resistance, meaning that they cause no voltage drop between the input supply and the circuit requiring protection. Thus, the design is suitable for systems with tight voltage margins.


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  • EDN fails again, with the supply reversed semiconductors and capacitors in the load conduct before the relay can switch. if you're lucky the relay switches before permanent damage is done