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Low cost LED driver for 1 watt LEDs


As efficient high power LEDs become more and more available and affordable (some cost
only 3$) they also become attractive for the hobbyists. They have a much better efficiency
than incandescent light bulbs and they last up to 50 times longer (typ. 50.000 hrs.)
Unfortunately these LEDs require a constant current driver circuit which is still relatively
expensive (typically around 15$).
If you want to run these LEDs from one or to AA cells, things get even worse as white high
power LEDs have a typical forward voltage of around 3.5 V (if driven at the rated current).
The big manufacturers of integrated circuits already offer a wide range of DC to DC
converter chips that are designed for this purpose but they have some disadvantages for
the hobbyists:
First they are expensive (typically around 5$).
Second they are hard to get in low quantities (at a reasonable price).
And last but not least they often come in small SMD packages that are very difficult to
solder (and i am not talking about SO8 cases which are relatively easy to handle).
My goal was to develop a LED driver that uses only cheap and common junkbox parts.
Since I'm going to participate in the 555 contest I chose a 555 timer chip as the heart of
this circuit which costs only about 20 ct.

The circuit:
The circuit is a simple DC to DC boost converter that uses a MOSFET as a switch.
Any MOSFET with a low ON resistance (preferrably lower than 0.1 ohms) can be used
Since the 555 timer requires a supply voltage of at least 4.5 V (or 2 V for the CMOS
versions) and because of the required gate drive voltage (at least 4 V for logic level
I decided to use a Joule Thief circuit to power the 555 timer. It is very simple but it
delivers only a few milliamps, which is just enough to power the timer and to drive the
I used a general purpose transistor like the BC337 or the 2N2222 for T 1 (on the left hand
side of the schematic.).It is connected to a small transformer that was made of a small
toroidal ferrite core with an outer diameter of 8mm (but any ferrite core will work fine) and
two windings of 20 turns enamelled copper wire (0.3 mm diameter) . This circuit is called a
blocking oscillator.
The 555 operates as a squarewave oscillator at a frequency of 65 kHz. It drives a power
MOSFET that acts as a switch in the boost converter. Due to the high frequency a small
inductor (47 H / 2A) can be used for L 2. This reduces size, weight and cost. The best
inductors are the bobbin types that can be found on computer motherboards, graphics
cards and mp3 players. Example are the SLF series from TDK, the PISM / PISR series
from Fastron or the SRR1208-470YL from Bourns. If you can't get them, you may also use
high power RF chokes with the
toroidal yellow iron powder cores.
If the inductance value is too high
then you can reduce the number of
turns using the formula L = n2 * AL
If you can't find both of these
suggested coils then you can try
using an air coil made of 60 turns
0.6 mm enamelled copper wire
wound around a pencil. However,
this will lower the efficiency
considerably (from 70% to about
Do NOT use any toroidal ferrite
cores with a high permeability.
They don't work, and you will
probably blow up the MOSFET.

Examples for suitable inductors

The output filtering capacitor should be a 470 F low ESR electrolytic. If you can find high
capacity ceramic capacitors then you can use much lower values (2x 10 f in parallel
should be sufficient).
For a complete parts list see appendix section 1).

The first prototype:

The efficiency was only 54% @ 2.4 V due to switching losses (the first circuit operated at a
frequency of approx. 150 kHz). A resistor was used to reduce the brightness of the LED.

The second prototype using an air coil

This one had a slightly lower efficiency (50 %)

The third prototype reached an efficiency of 78 % @ 1.8 V using the inductor shown below

(Vin: 1.8 V I=0.62A Vout=3.5V I=0.25A)

It is a shielded inductor (47 H / 2.4 A),

probably a SLF series type from TDK.
I put them in service because I recently bought
S...loads of them for EUR 0.20 each.
(A German online store had them on sale)

This circuit is just a proof of concept just to show that the good old 555 timer can still be
used for a modern and quite demanding application. It is by no means an optimized circuit
that can be readily used for mass production. It appears relatively big by today's standard
because I used only through hole components. You may shrink it to 50 % of its original
size if you use modern SMD parts. You may also be able to increase the efficiency of this
circuit. Unfortunately I didnt't have time to do extensive measurements with all sorts of
inductors. There may be some room for optimizations.


1) Parts list

R1 2.2 k / 0.1 W
R2 10 k / 0.1 W
R3 100 k / 0.1 W
R4 470 / 0.1 W
R5 1 k / 0.1 W
R6 2 / 0.25W
C1 220 pF NPO ceramic disc capacitor
C2 10 F / 16 V electrolytic
C3, C4 470 F / 6.3 V, low ESR
L1 custom made transformer, see text
L2 47 H / 2 A (TDK SLF 12575 / Fastron PIS4728 series)
D1 1N4148
D2 SB240 (SB360, MBRS240, MBRD650)
D3 BZX55C 4V7, 4.7 V Zener Diode
D4 1 W High Power LED
T1 BC 337-40 (2N2222A)
T2 BC547B (2N3904)
T3 2SK2869 (IRLR2905, IRLZ 34N)
IC1 ICM7555 (TLC555, HA17555)

2) References:

1. http://schmidt-walter.eit.h-da.de/smps/smps.html
2. TLC555 datasheet from Texas Instruments
3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joule_thief