dc dc converter emissions before and after with notes on sources

Li-Ion Battery Charger DC/DC Converter – Radiated Emissions Problem Solving

I had a challenging EMC problem solving project in the lab this week.

A customer making a miniaturised 4 cm^3 buck-boost DC/DC converter for Li-Ion battery charging was having radiated emissions issues. The small size meant that adding common mode chokes to filter the input and output connections wasn’t practicable so a more in depth investigation was required.


How bad is it?

Here are the emissions for the EUT without any modifications. The green reference trace is the AC/DC mains power supply being used to power the EUT. It is failing the Class B limit (blue) by some margin.

unmodified dc dc converter radiated emissions

Initial Isolation and Investigation

To investigate the emission radiation source (not the cause yet), I placed large clip on ferrite cores around the DC input cable and the battery output cable to reduce emissions directly from the cables.


dc dc converter with ferrites on cables

This improves some of the frequencies but not all of them. If the radiation was entirely cable related then this would have dropped the emissions significantly. As it hasn’t, we can conclude that the majority of the emissions are coming from the PCB.

The three peaks we’ll focus on are 180MHz, 300MHz and 500MHz.

Next step is to turn on the spectrum analyser and break out the near field probes. I’ve got a selection of commercial and home made probes but the ones I keep coming back to are the give-away probe cards that I have on my exhibition stand at trade shows.


Switching Noise Investigation

The location of the emissions for the 180MHz and 300MHz emissions was initially puzzling. Mostly it was centred around the drain of Q1. If we consider the operation of the circuit, Q1 is turned on permanently in boost mode with Q3 acting as the normal switching element and Q4 acting as a synchronous rectifier. Where is this switching noise coming from?


buck boost in boost mode


Those of you familiar with synchronous switching converter operation will be shouting at the screen right now. Of course, the answer is bootstrapping.

The high side N channel MOSFETs Q1 and Q4 need a gate voltage higher than their source voltage + their threshold voltage to turn on. In this kind of circuit, this voltage is derived from the switching node via a bootstrap circuit.

This explanation on bootstrap circuit operation from Rohm saves me from re-inventing the wheel.

Even though Q1 is nominally on all the time it still needs to perform a switching operation with Q2 to charge up the bootstrap capacitor powering it’s gate driver circuit.

Checking the datasheet, this switching operation takes just 100ns. That’s very fast indeed and explains the source of our switching noise!

The same bootstrap operation is happening to provide the drive voltage for Q4 but because the boost node is continuously switching this voltage is being provided without such a short switching event.

Due to space constraints it wasn’t easy, but I managed to get the microscope out and modify the board to accept a small but high current ferrite bead in series with Q1 drain.



500MHz Emission

It didn’t take long to narrow down the 500MHz emissions to the boost output diode D1 with a large amount of ringing on the cathode.

The interesting thing about this diode is that it is only conducting for a very brief period in the dead-time between Q3 turning off and Q4 turning on. Dead time between these parts is set at 75ns, again a very short time period. Good for reducing switching losses, disadvantageous for EMC emission.


dead time turn on for the parallel boost diode


The part selected for this was a slightly electrically over-rated 40V 1A, SMB packaged part with a reasonable capacitance. Switching 1 amp of current through this part for only a brief period of time before shorting it out and discharging the diode capacitance was causing the ringing to occur.

A ferrite bead was added in series to damp this as the customer wasn’t too keen to head down the rabbit hole of investigating specifying a lower capacitance rated new diode or looking at whether the diode could have been removed altogether at the expense of slightly higher power dissipation in Q4.

Interestingly, this is what the emissions looked like with the diode removed but still with the lower frequency emissions present from the input transistor drain. Note the wideband reduction in emissions above 300MHz.


dc dc converter emissions plot with the parallel diode d1 removed from the circuit


With both of the ferrite beads in place the emissions profile of the EUT was reduced to meet the Class B limits. With more time the peak at 160MHz could be investigated and further reduced but project time pressures and the customer understandably wanting a “good enough” result meant we concluded this investigation here.


dc dc converter emissions before and after with notes on sources

The end.

DC/DC converters are often provide a challenging EMC opponent when it comes to radiated emissions. I was glad of the opportunity to work on this project and provide a successful result for the customer. This is the kind of work that I love.

The advantage of being an EMC-consultant-with-a-test-lab combined is that this kind of work can be compressed into hours of work rather than days/weeks oscillating between your lab and the test lab. Problems Fixed Fast!

I hope you found this piece useful, get in touch via the usual channels if you have any questions.






Off The Shelf and Non-Compliant Power Supplies (from Amazon)

A customer had purchased some power supplies from Amazon UK to get started with the development on their product. And why not? There are lots of cheap products available and everyone has a budget to meet. The chances are that they’ll get damaged, lost or broken anyway.

They were happy with the (perceived) quality of the PSU so approached the manufacturer directly for bulk pricing for volume production. However, the Amazon sample made it’s way to Unit 3 Compliance for EMC pre-compliance testing where the fun began…

infographic comparing two power supplies

Externally, the only way to tell the difference between the compliant and non-compliant versions is a slight difference in the length of the barrel connector and a slightly different shape of strain relief grommet.

These devices are being marketed as the same device on the outside and yet are completely different on the inside!

I’ve not been able to subsequently find this exact power supply on Amazon but there are similar looking variants still available.


A Real Problem

Crucially, it’s not just EMC that is being sacrificed. This “race to the bottom” of extracting every last penny from products has more serious consequences.

More dangerously for consumers, electrical safety is also being compromised as shown in this study from Electrical Safety First on Apple chargers.

At a previous employer, an inspection was performed on 50 power supplies (again, bought from Amazon) that one of the project teams had purchased for powering various development platforms within the company. This revealed some serious safety problems (creepage and clearance) resulting in the entire batch being quarantined and scrapped for recycling.

Another aspect to consider – if the manufacturer has two different, almost indistinguishable products then how does your supply chain guarantee that you will receive the correct one? What is to stop the manufacturer from swapping out the more expensive compliant power supply halfway through production?

The principle of caveat emptor still applies. Disingenuous product markings are being used to falsely indicate compliance.


What To Do?

The obvious way round this is only to buy small quantity power supplies from trusted suppliers. I know from working with other customers that suppliers like RS and Farnell / Element 14 take compliance seriously. Buying from these sources is more expensive financially but what price do you put on your own safety?

If you are relying on buying a pre-approved power supply always ask for the EMC and safety test reports and the Declaration of Conformity. A supplier who cannot readily supply these readily should be disregarded.

Compare the details in the reports with the physical sample in front of you. Especially for safety reports, photos of the unit are generally included, inside and out. Look for any differences between the two.

Differences in EMC performance are not obvious. The only way to be sure of the quoted performance is to perform some quick tests, conducted and radiated emissions being the two main ones.


How We Can Help.

Here at Unit 3 Compliance we can give you some peace of mind that your power supply isn’t going to cause you any issues. Some of the things we do include:

  • Provide full EMC testing for all off the shelf products
  • Electrical safety analysis and testing
  • Help you understand the compromises and
  • We can review test reports and compare to physical samples with an experienced eye
  • Every incoming customer power supply is given a HiPot test as standard to help catch any problems

Please get in touch to reduce your stress levels.