Forward Biased PN Junction Diode
When a diode is connected in a Forward Bias condition, a negative voltage is applied to the N-type material and a positive voltage is applied to the P-type material. If this external voltage becomes greater than the value of the potential barrier, approx. 0.7 volts for silicon and 0.3 volts for germanium, the potential barriers opposition will be overcome and current will start to flow.
This is because the negative voltage pushes or repels electrons towards the junction giving them the energy to cross over and combine with the holes being pushed in the opposite direction towards the junction by the positive voltage. This results in a characteristics curve of zero current flowing up to this voltage point, called the “knee” on the static curves and then a high current flow through the diode with little increase in the external voltage as shown below.
Forward Characteristics Curve for a Junction Diode
The application of a forward biasing voltage on the junction diode results in the depletion layer becoming very thin and narrow which represents a low impedance path through the junction thereby allowing high currents to flow. The point at which this sudden increase in current takes place is represented on the static I-V characteristics curve above as the “knee” point.
Reduction in the Depletion Layer due to Forward Bias
This condition represents the low resistance path through the PN junction allowing very large currents to flow through the diode with only a small increase in bias voltage. The actual potential difference across the junction or diode is kept constant by the action of the depletion layer at approximately 0.3v for germanium and approximately 0.7v for silicon junction diodes.
Since the diode can conduct “infinite” current above this knee point as it effectively becomes a short circuit, therefore resistors are used in series with the diode to limit its current flow. Exceeding its maximum forward current specification causes the device to dissipate more power in the form of heat than it was designed for resulting in a very quick failure of the device.