Four-quadrant DC/DC regulator smoothly transitions from positive to negative output

April 01, 2014 // By Albert Wu, Linear Technology
In many electronic systems, it is necessary to provide a bipolar (positive and negative) voltage or current into a particular type of load. Loads that require bipolar voltages/currents include FPGA body biasing applications, thermoelectric coolers, DC motors, and many others.

There are many traditional methods to provide a bipolar voltage/current to a load. H-bridge designs are frequently used, but require that neither of the load’s terminals is tied directly to ground. Each of the load’s two terminals has to swing between the positive supply rail and ground and usually an inductor is placed in series with the load to filter out this chopped waveform. This lack of a direct ground connection to the load can complicate the mechanical and electrical design of the overall system. The H-bridge method also requires four switching elements and a more complex control scheme. There are loads that have a negative terminal that cannot be biased high relative to ground, such as an FPGA back-biasing application.

Another traditional method is to build two power rails, a positive one and a negative one. Various circuits are used to “swap” in the positive or negative rail with regulation to achieve bipolar voltage operation that can go below ground. This results in a very complex system, generally with poor efficiency, and a non-linear response at the point at which the output voltage crosses the ground potential.

A new DC/DC switching architecture is described here that has the ability to generate true four-quadrant operation, meaning the output voltage can be positive or negative and the current flow can be in either direction as well. Additionally, this new architecture can generate an output voltage that transitions from one polarity to another, through the ground potential, smoothly and without any non-linearity from mode transitions.

Four-quadrant DC/DC converter

Figure 1 shows the basic connections and elements of the four-quadrant converter. NFET, MN and PFET, MP are operated out of phase from one another and at a constant switching frequency. Current mode control is used (not shown) to modulate the duty cycle of MN as needed.

Figure 1. Four-quadrant DC/DC converter topology

If we assume fixed frequency operation, the duty cycle for the ON time of MN can be calculated as

From this equation, it is clear that with a positive VIN voltage, the output voltage VOUT can be positive (up to VIN) or negative (limited only by practical DC considerations) and can go to 0V as well. In fact, there is nothing special about the 0V output level since the DC of the converter is 50% at that operating point.

The output of this converter can sink or source current regardless of the polarity of the output voltage, making this a true four-quadrant operating topology. The maximum drain to source voltage stress on MN and MP are both 2VIN – VOUT. For example, if VIN is +12V and VOUT is -12V, then the BVDSS ratings for both FETs must be greater then 36V.

Four-quadrant topology device

The recently released controller from Linear Technology, the LT8710, can be used in the four-quadrant topology. Figure 2 shows a complete and fully tested circuit configured in this topology. The input voltage range for this circuit is typically 12V, but allows a range from 11V to 13V. The output can be adjusted from +5V to -5V with an output current capability of ±3A. An analogue control signal, VCNTL, is used to adjust the output voltage. The LT8710 is an 80V capable controller so it can be used to build many other versions of the four-quadrant converter with higher or lower voltage and current capabilities.

Figure 2. Four-quadrant converter using the LT8710

The four-quadrant operating capability of the converter is shown in Figure 3. Here, a sinusoidal control signal is used to generate a sinusoidal output voltage centred on 0V. The inductor currents can go positive or negative; whatever is necessary to have the output voltage go to the commanded level. The operating waveforms show clean and smooth operation through the ground potential. The choice of using a sine wave control signal is arbitrary; a DC signal, square wave signal or any other type of signal could also be used.

Figure 3. Sine-wave output voltage passes through 0V

next; applications