Boost Converter Functionality at Rock-Bottom Prices

Linear voltage regulators are pretty easy to throw into a project if something in it needs a specific voltage that’s lower than the supply. If it needs a higher voltage, it’s almost just as easy to grab a boost converter of some sort to satisfy the power requirements. But if you’re on a mission to save some money for a large production run, or you just like the challenge of building something as simply as possible, there are ways of getting voltages greater than the supply voltage without using anything as non-minimalistic as a boost converter. [Josh] shows us exactly how this can be done using a circuit known as a charge pump to drive a blue LED.

One of the cool things about AVR microcontrollers is that they can run easily on a coin cell battery and source enough current to drive LEDs directly from the output pins. Obviously enough, if the LED voltage is greater than the voltage of the power supply, this won’t work. That is, unless you have a spare diode and capacitor around to build a charge pump.

The negative charge pump works by charging up a capacitor that is connected to an AVR pin, with the other side between the LED and a garden-variety diode to ground. That results in a roughly (VCC – 0.7) volt difference across the capacitor’s plates. When the AVR pin goes low, the other side of the capacitor goes negative by this same amount, and this makes the voltage across the LED high enough to light up. Not only is this simpler than a boost converter, but it doesn’t need any bulky inductors to work properly.

Will this work for any load? Am I going to start any fires by overdriving the LED? Luckily, [josh] answers all of these questions and more on the project page, and goes into some detail on the circuit theory as well. Granted, the charge pump doesn’t have the fine control over the power supply that you can get out of a buck or boost converter (or any switch-mode power supply). But it does have good bang-for-the-buck.

Illogical voltage double uses logic

[Jonathan Thomson] just finished writing up his entry for the 7400 logic contest. It’s a voltage doubler that uses a 74HC14 logic chip. Because this is not at all what the chip was meant for–and he’s a sucker for puns–he’s calling it the Illogical Dickson Doubler.

What he’s got here is basically a charge pump built from a set of diodes and capacitors. On the breadboard you see two chips, one is used as a clock signal generator for the other which is acting as part of the charge pump. We’ve seen a string of hacks that misuse the protection diodes on the inputs of logic chips. In fact, [Jonathan’s] setup uses the same back power concept that barebones PIC RFID tag did. You may remember in that project the chip was being powered from one of the I/O pins, with the VCC pin not connected to anything.

We’ve embedded a video after the break with shows some voltage measurements, as well as an LED being powered from the doubling circuit.

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