A J-FET’s self-biasing characteristic can be utilized to construct a DC/DC converter powered from as little as 300mV. Solar cells, thermopiles and single stage fuel cells, all with outputs below 600mV, are typical power sources for such a converter.
Figure 1, an N-channel J-FET I-V plot, shows drain-source conduction under zero bias (gate and source tied together) conditions. This property can be exploited to produce a self-starting DC/DC converter that runs from 0.3V to 1.6V inputs.
Figure 2 shows the circuit. Q1 and T1 form an oscillator with T1’s secondary providing regenerative feedback to Q1’s gate. When power is applied, Q1’s gate is at zero volts and its drain conducts current via T1’s primary. T1’s phase inverting secondary responds by going negative at Q1’s gate, turning it off. T1’s primary current ceases, its secondary collapses and oscillation commences. T1’s primary action causes positive going “flyback” events at Q1’s drain, which are rectified and filtered. Q2’s approximately 2V turn-on potential isolates the load, aiding start-up. When Q2 turns on, circuit output heads towards 5V. C1, powered from Q2’s source, enforces output regulation by comparing a portion of the output with its internal voltage reference. C1’s switched output controls Q1’s on-time via Q3, forming a control loop.
Waveforms for the circuit include the AC coupled output (Figure 3, trace A), C1’s output (trace B) and Q1’s drain flyback events (trace C). When the output drops below 5V, C1 goes low, turning on Q1. Q1’s resultant flyback events continue until the 5V output is restored. This pattern repeats, maintaining the output.
The 5V output can supply up to 2mA, sufficient to power circuitry or supply bias to a higher power switching regulator when more current is required. The circuit will start into loads of 300µA at 300mV input; 2mA loading requires a 475mV supply. Figure 4 plots minimum input voltage vs output current over a range of loads.
Q3’s shunt control of Q1 is simple and effective, but results in a 25mA quiescent current drain. Figure 5’s modifications reduce this figure to 1mA by series switching T1’s secondary. Here, Q3 switches series-connected Q4, more efficiently controlling Q1’s gate drive. Negative turn-off bias for Q4 is bootstrapped from T1’s secondary; the 6.8V zener holds off bias supply loading during initial power application, aiding start-up. Figure 4 shows minimal penalty imposed by the added quiescent current control circuitry.