A variable capacitance diode is known as a varicap diode or as a varactor. If a diode is reverse biased, an insulating depletion region forms between the two semiconductive layers. In many diodes the width of the depletion region may be changed by varying the reverse bias. This varies the capacitance. This effect is accentuated in varicap diodes. The schematic symbols is shown in Figure below, one of which is packaged as common cathode dual diode.
If a varicap diode is part of a resonant circuit as in Figure above, the frequency may be varied with a control voltage, Vcontrol. A large capacitance, low Xc, in series with the varicap prevents Vcontrol from being shorted out by inductor L. As long as the series capacitor is large, it has minimal effect on the frequency of resonant circuit. Coptional may be used to set the center resonant frequency. Vcontrol can then vary the frequency about this point. Note that the required active circuitry to make the resonant network oscillate is not shown. For an example of a varicap diode tuned AM radio receiver see “electronic varicap diode tuning,”
Some varicap diodes may be referred to as abrupt, hyperabrupt, or super hyper abrupt. These refer to the change in junction capacitance with changing reverse bias as being abrupt or hyper-abrupt, or super hyperabrupt. These diodes offer a relatively large change in capacitance. This is useful when oscillators or filters are swept over a large frequency range. Varying the bias of abrupt varicaps over the rated limits, changes capacitance by a 4:1 ratio, hyperabrupt by 10:1, super hyperabrupt by 20:1.
Varactor diodes may be used in frequency multiplier circuits. See “Practical analog semiconductor circuits,” Varactor multiplier
Article Extracted from Tony R. Kuphaldt Lessons In Electric Circuits — Volume III Chapter 2 under the terms and conditions of the CC BY License.