Having seen that a 3-phase supply is just simply three single-phases combined together, we can use this multi-phase property to create 3-phase rectifier circuits.
As with single-phase rectification, three-phase rectification uses diodes, thyristors, transistors, or converters to create half-wave, full-wave, uncontrolled and fully-controlled rectifier circuits transforming a given three-phase supply into a constant DC output level. In most applications a three-phase rectifier is supplied directly from the mains utility power grid or from a three-phase transformer if different DC output level is required by the connected load.
As with the previous single-phase rectifier, the most basic three-phase rectifier circuit is that of an uncontrolled half-wave rectifier circuit which uses three semiconductor diodes, one diode per phase as shown.
The advantage here is that a three-phase alternating current (AC) supply can be used to provide electrical power directly to balanced loads and rectifiers. Since a 3-phase supply has a fixed voltage and frequency it can be used by a rectification circuit to produce a fixed voltage DC power which can then be filtered resulting in an output DC voltage with less ripple compared to a single-phase rectifying circuit.
1/2-wave 3-phase Rectification
So how does this three-phase half-wave rectifier circuit work. The anode of each diode is connected to one phase of the voltage supply with the cathodes of all three diodes connected together to the same positive point, effectively creating a diode-“OR” type arrangement. This common point becomes the positive (+) terminal for the load while the negative (-) terminal of the load is connected to the neutral (N) of the supply.
Assuming a phase rotation of Red-Yellow-Blue (VA – VB – VC) and the red phase (VA) starts at 0o. The first diode to conduct will be diode 1 (D1) as it will have a more positive voltage at its anode than diodes D2 or D3. Thus diode D1 conducts for the positive half-cycle of VA while D2 and D3 are in their reverse-biased state. The neutral wire provides a return path for the load current back to the supply.
120 electrical degrees later, diode 2 (D2) starts to conduct for the positive half-cycle of VB (yellow phase). Now its anode becomes more positive than diodes D1 and D3 which are both “OFF” because they are reversed-biased. Similarly, 120o later VC (blue phase) starts to increase turning “ON” diode 3 (D3) as its anode becomes more positive, thus turning “OFF” diodes D1 and D2.
1/2-wave 3-phase Rectifier Conduction Waveform
From the above waveforms for a resistive load, we can see that for a half-wave rectifier each diode passes current for one third of each cycle, with the output waveform being three times the input frequency of the AC supply. Therefore there are three voltage peaks in a given cycle, so by increasing the number of phases from a single-phase to a three-phase supply, the rectification of the supply is improved, that is the output DC voltage is smoother.
For a three-phase half-wave rectifier, the supply voltages VA VB and VC are balanced but with a phase difference of 120o giving:
VA = VP*sin(ωt – 0o)
VB = VP*sin(ωt – 120o)
VC = VP*sin(ωt – 240o)
Full-wave 3-phase Rectification
The full-wave three-phase uncontrolled bridge rectifier circuit uses six diodes, two per phase in a similar fashion to the single-phase bridge rectifier. A 3-phase full-wave rectifier is obtained by using two half-wave rectifier circuits. The advantage here is that the circuit produces a lower ripple output than the previous half-wave 3-phase rectifier as it has a frequency of six times the input AC waveform.
Also, the full-wave rectifier can be fed from a balanced 3–phase 3-wire delta connected supply as no fourth neutral (N) wire is required. Consider the full-wave 3-phase rectifier circuit below.
Full-wave 3-phase Rectification
As before, assuming a phase rotation of Red-Yellow-Blue (VA – VB – VC) and the red phase (VA) starts at 0o. Each phase connects between a pair of diodes as shown. One diode of the conducting pair powers the positive (+) side of load, while the other diode powers the negative (-) side of load.
Diodes D1 D3 D2 and D4 form a bridge rectifier network between phases A and B, similarly diodes D3 D5 D4 and D6 between phases B and C and D5 D1 D6 and D2 between phases C and A.
Thus diodes D1 D3 and D5 feed the positive rail and depending on which one has a more positive voltage at its anode terminal conducts. Likewise, diodes D2 D4 and D6 feed the negative rail and whichever diode has a more negative voltage at its cathode terminal conducts.
Full-wave 3-phase Rectifier Conduction Waveform
In 3-phase power rectifiers, conduction always occurs in the most positive diode and the corresponding most negative diode. Thus as the three phases rotate across the rectifier terminals, conduction is passed from diode to diode. Then each diode conducts for 120o(one-third) in each supply cycle but as it takes two diodes to conduct in pairs, each pair of diodes will conduct for only 60o (one-sixth) of a cycle at any one time as shown above.
Therefore we can correctly say that for a 3-phase rectifier being fed by “3” transformer secondaries, each phase will be separated by 360o/3 thus requiring 2*3 diodes. Note also that unlike the previous half-wave rectifier, there is no common connection between the rectifiers input and output terminals. Therefore it can be fed by a star connected or a delta connected transformer supply.