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12V Glow Plug ConverterMost small internal-combustion engines commonly used in the model-building world use glow plugs for starting. Unfortunately, glow plugs have an operating voltage of 1.5 V, while fuel pumps, starter motors, chargers and the like generally run on 12 V. This means that a separate battery is always needed to power the glow plug. The standard solution is to use an additional 2-V lead storage battery, with a power diode in series to reduce the voltage by approximately 0.5 V. However, this has the annoying consequence that more than 30 percent of the energy is dissipated in the diode. Naturally, this is far from being efficient. The converter presented here allows glow plugs to be powered from the 12-V storage battery that is usually used for fuelling, charging, starting and so on.
A car battery can also be used as a power source. Furthermore, this circuit is considerably more efficient than the approach of using a 2-V battery with a series power diode. The heart of the DC/DC converter is IC1, a MAX 1627. The converter works according to the well-known step-down principle, using a coil and an electrolytic capacitor. Here the switching stage is not integrated into the IC, so we are free to select a FET according to the desired current level. In this case, we have selected a 2SJ349 (T1), but any other type of logic-level FET with a low value of RDSon would also be satisfactory. Of course, the FET must be able to handle the required high currents. Diode D1 is a fast Schottky diode, which must be rated to handle the charging currents for C2 and C3. This diode must also be a fairly hefty type. The internal resistances of coil L1 and capacitors C2 and C3 must be as low as possible. This ensures efficient conversion and prevents the components from becoming too warm. The resistor network R2/R3 causes 87 percent of the output voltage to be applied to the FB pin of IC1.
This means that an output voltage of 1.5 V will cause a voltage of approximately 1.3 V to be present at the FB pin. The IC always tries to drive the switching stage such that it ‘sees’ a voltage of 1.3 V on the FB input. If desired, a different output voltage can be provided by modifying the values of R2 and R3. When assembling the circuit, ensure that C5 and C1 are placed as close as possible to IC1, and use sufficiently heavy wiring between the 12-V input and the 1-5-V output, since large currents flow in this part of the circuit. A glow plug can easily draw around 5 A, and the charging current flowing through the coil and into C2 and C3 is a lot higher than this!