FHSST Physics/Magnets and Electromagnetism/Measurements of AC Magnitude

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The Free High School Science Texts: A Textbook for High School Students Studying Physics
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Magnets and Electromagnetism
Permanent Magnets - Electromagnetism - Magnetic Units of Measurement - Electromagnetic Induction - Alternating Current - Measurements of AC Magnitude

Measurements of AC magnitude[edit]

So far we know that AC voltage alternates in polarity and AC current alternates in direction. We also know that AC can alternate in a variety of different ways, and by tracing the alternation over time we can plot it as a "waveform." We can measure the rate of alternation by measuring the time it takes for a wave to evolve before it repeats itself (the "period"), and express this as cycles per unit time, or "frequency." In music, frequency is the same as pitch, which is the essential property distinguishing one note from another.

However, we encounter a measurement problem if we try to express how large or small an AC quantity is. With DC, where quantities of voltage and current are generally stable, we have little trouble expressing how much voltage or current we have in any part of a circuit. But how do you grant a single measurement of magnitude to something that is constantly changing?

One way to express the intensity, or magnitude (also called the amplitude), of an AC quantity is to measure its peak height on a waveform graph. This is known as the peak or crest value of an AC waveform:

Fhsst_electromag23.png

Another way is to measure the total height between opposite peaks. This is known as the peak-to-peak (P-P) value of an AC waveform:

Fhsst_electromag24.png

Unfortunately, either one of these expressions of waveform amplitude can be misleading when comparing two different types of waves. For example, a square wave peaking at 10 volts is obviously a greater amount of voltage for a greater amount of time than a triangle wave peaking at 10 volts. The effects of these two AC voltages powering a load would be quite different:

Fhsst_electromag25.png

One way of expressing the amplitude of different waveshapes in a more equivalent fashion is to mathematically average the values of all the points on a waveform's graph to a single, aggregate number. This amplitude measure is known simply as the average value of the waveform. If we average all the points on the waveform algebraically (that is, to consider their sign, either positive or negative), the average value for most waveforms is technically zero, because all the positive points cancel out all the negative points over a full cycle:

Fhsst_electromag26.png

This, of course, will be true for any waveform having equal-area portions above and below the "zero" line of a plot. However, as a practical measure of a waveform's aggregate value, "average" is usually defined as the mathematical mean of all the points' absolute values over a cycle. In other words, we calculate the practical average value of the waveform by considering all points on the wave as positive quantities, as if the waveform looked like this:

Fhsst_electromag27.png

Polarity-insensitive mechanical meter movements (meters designed to respond equally to the positive and negative half-cycles of an alternating voltage or current) register in proportion to the waveform's (practical) average value, because the inertia of the pointer against the tension of the spring naturally averages the force produced by the varying voltage/current values over time. Conversely, polarity-sensitive meter movements vibrate uselessly if exposed to AC voltage or current, their needles oscillating rapidly about the zero mark, indicating the true (algebraic) average value of zero for a symmetrical waveform. When the "average" value of a waveform is referenced in this text, it will be assumed that the "practical" definition of average is intended unless otherwise specified.

Another method of deriving an aggregate value for waveform amplitude is based on the waveform's ability to do useful work when applied to a load resistance. Unfortunately, an AC measurement based on work performed by a waveform is not the same as that waveform's "average" value, because the power dissipated by a given load (work performed per unit time) is not directly proportional to the magnitude of either the voltage or current impressed upon it. Rather, power is proportional to the square of the voltage or current applied to a resistance (P = E/R, and P = IR). Although the mathematics of such an amplitude measurement might not be straightforward, the utility of it is.

Consider a bandsaw and a jigsaw, two pieces of modern woodworking equipment. Both types of saws cut with a thin, toothed, motor-powered metal blade to cut wood. But while the bandsaw uses a continuous motion of the blade to cut, the jigsaw uses a back-and-forth motion. The comparison of alternating current (AC) to direct current (DC) may be likened to the comparison of these two saw types:

Fhsst_electromag28.png

The problem of trying to describe the changing quantities of AC voltage or current in a single, aggregate measurement is also present in this saw analogy: how might we express the speed of a jigsaw blade? A bandsaw blade moves with a constant speed, similar to the way DC voltage pushes or DC current moves with a constant magnitude. A jigsaw blade, on the other hand, moves back and forth, its blade speed constantly changing. What is more, the back-and-forth motion of any two jigsaws may not be of the same type, depending on the mechanical design of the saws. One jigsaw might move its blade with a sine-wave motion, while another with a triangle-wave motion. To rate a jigsaw based on its peak blade speed would be quite misleading when comparing one jigsaw to another (or a jigsaw with a bandsaw!). Despite the fact that these different saws move their blades in different manners, they are equal in one respect: they all cut wood, and a quantitative comparison of this common function can serve as a common basis for which to rate blade speed.

Picture a jigsaw and bandsaw side-by-side, equipped with identical blades (same tooth pitch, angle, etc.), equally capable of cutting the same thickness of the same type of wood at the same rate. We might say that the two saws were equivalent or equal in their cutting capacity. Might this comparison be used to assign a "bandsaw equivalent" blade speed to the jigsaw's back-and-forth blade motion to relate the wood-cutting effectiveness of one to the other? This is the general idea used to assign a "DC equivalent" measurement to any AC voltage or current: whatever magnitude of DC voltage or current would produce the same amount of heat energy dissipation through an equal resistance:

Fhsst_electromag29.png

Suppose we were to wrap a coil of insulated wire around a loop of ferromagnetic material and energize this coil with an AC voltage source:

Fhsst_electromag30.png

As an inductor, we would expect this iron-core coil to oppose the applied voltage with its inductive reactance, limiting current through the coil as predicted by the equations X_L= 2\pi\ fL and I=E/X (or I=E/Z). For the purposes of this example, though, we need to take a more detailed look at the interactions of voltage, current, and magnetic flux in the device.

Kirchhoff's voltage law describes how the algebraic sum of all voltages in a loop must equal zero. In this example, we could apply this fundamental law of electricity to describe the respective voltages of the source and of the inductor coil. Here, as in any one-source, one-load circuit, the voltage dropped across the load must equal the voltage supplied by the source, assuming zero voltage dropped along the resistance of any connecting wires. In other words, the load (inductor coil) must produce an opposing voltage equal in magnitude to the source, in order that it may balance against the source voltage and produce an algebraic loop voltage sum of zero. From where does this opposing voltage arise? If the load were a resistor, the opposing voltage would originate from the "friction" of electrons flowing through the resistance of the resistor. With a perfect inductor (no resistance in the coil wire), the opposing voltage comes from another mechanism: the reaction to a changing magnetic flux in the iron core.

Michael Faraday discovered the mathematical relationship between magnetic flux (\Phi)and induced voltage with this equation:

E=N\frac{d\Phi}{dt}
where:
e = (Instantaneous) induced voltage in volts
N = Number of turns in wire coil (straight wire = 1)
\Phi = Magnetic flux in webers
t = Time in seconds

The instantaneous voltage (voltage dropped at any instant in time) across a wire coil is equal to the number of turns of that coil around the core (N) multiplied by the instantaneous rate-of-change in magnetic flux (d\Phi /dt) linking with the coil. Graphed, this shows itself as a set of sine waves (assuming a sinusoidal voltage source), the flux wave 90^\circ lagging behind the voltage wave:

Fhsst_electromag31.png

Magnetic flux through a ferromagnetic material is analogous to current through a conductor: it must be motivated by some force in order to occur. In electric circuits, this motivating force is voltage (a.k.a. electromotive force, or EMF). In magnetic "circuits," this motivating force is magnetomotive force, or mmf. Magnetomotive force (mmf) and magnetic flux (\Phi) are related to each other by a property of magnetic materials known as reluctance (the latter quantity symbolized by a strange-looking letter "R" (\Re)):

A comparison of "Ohm's Law" for electric and magnetic circuits:
E=I\ R mmf=\Phi \Re
Electrical Magnetic


In our example, the mmf required to produce this changing magnetic flux (\Phi) must be supplied by a changing current through the coil. Magnetomotive force generated by an electromagnet coil is equal to the amount of current through that coil (in amps) multiplied by the number of turns of that coil around the core (the SI unit for mmf is the amp-turn). Because the mathematical relationship between magnetic flux and mmf is directly proportional, and because the mathematical relationship between mmf and current is also directly proportional (no rates-of-change present in either equation), the current through the coil will be in-phase with the flux wave:

Fhsst_electromag32.png

This is why alternating current through an inductor lags the applied voltage waveform by 90^\circ: because that is what is required to produce a changing magnetic flux whose rate-of-change produces an opposing voltage in-phase with the applied voltage. Due to its function in providing magnetizing force (mmf) for the core, this current is sometimes referred to as the magnetizing current.

It should be mentioned that the current through an iron-core inductor is not perfectly sinusoidal (sine-wave shaped), due to the nonlinear B/H magnetization curve of iron. In fact, if the inductor is cheaply built, using as little iron as possible, the magnetic flux density might reach high levels (approaching saturation), resulting in a magnetizing current waveform that looks something like this:

Fhsst_electromag33.png

When a ferromagnetic material approaches magnetic flux saturation, disproportionately greater levels of magnetic field force (mmf) are required to deliver equal increases in magnetic field flux (\Phi). Because mmf is proportional to current through the magnetizing coil (mmf = NI, where "N" is the number of turns of wire in the coil and "I" is the current through it), the large increases of mmf required to supply the needed increases in flux results in large increases in coil current. Thus, coil current increases dramatically at the peaks in order to maintain a flux waveform that isn't distorted, accounting for the bell-shaped half-cycles of the current waveform in the above plot.

The situation is further complicated by energy losses within the iron core. The effects of hysteresis and eddy currents conspire to further distort and complicate the current waveform, making it even less sinusoidal and altering its phase to be lagging slightly less than 90^\circ behind the applied voltage waveform. This coil current resulting from the sum total of all magnetic effects in the core (d\Phi/dt magnetization plus hysteresis losses, eddy current losses, etc.) is called the exciting current. The distortion of an iron-core inductor's exciting current may be minimized if it is designed for and operated at very low flux densities. Generally speaking, this requires a core with large cross-sectional area, which tends to make the inductor bulky and expensive. For the sake of simplicity, though, we'll assume that our example core is far from saturation and free from all losses, resulting in a perfectly sinusoidal exciting current.

As we've seen already in the inductors chapter, having a current waveform 90^\circ out of phase with the voltage waveform creates a condition where power is alternately absorbed and returned to the circuit by the inductor. If the inductor is perfect (no wire resistance, no magnetic core losses, etc.), it will dissipate zero power.

Let us now consider the same inductor device, except this time with a second coil wrapped around the same iron core. The first coil will be labeled the primary coil, while the second will be labeled the secondary:

Fhsst_electromag34.png

If this secondary coil experiences the same magnetic flux change as the primary (which it should, assuming perfect containment of the magnetic flux through the common core), and has the same number of turns around the core, a voltage of equal magnitude and phase to the applied voltage will be induced along its length. In the following graph, the induced voltage waveform is drawn slightly smaller than the source voltage waveform simply to distinguish one from the other:

Fhsst_electromag35.png