A rectifier is an electrical device that converts alternating current (AC), which periodically reverses direction, to direct current (DC) which flows in only one direction. The process is known as rectification. Physically, rectifiers take a number of forms, including vacuum tube diodes, mercury arc valves, solid state diodes, silicon-controlled rectifiers and other silicon-based semiconductor switches. Historically, even synchronous electromechanical switches and motors have been used. Early radio receivers, called crystal radios, used a “cat’s whisker” of fine wire pressing on a crystal of galena (lead sulfide) to serve as a point-contact rectifier or “crystal detector”.
Rectifiers have many uses, but are often found serving as components of DC power supplies and high-voltage direct current power transmission systems. Rectification may serve in roles other than to generate direct current for use as a source of power. As noted, detectors of radio signals serve as rectifiers. In gas heating systems flame rectification is used to detect presence of flame.
The simple process of rectification produces a type of DC characterized by pulsating voltages and currents (although still unidirectional). Depending upon the type of end-use, this type of DC current may then be further modified into the type of relatively constant voltage DC characteristically produced by such sources as batteries and solar cells.
A device which performs the opposite function (converting DC to AC) is known as an inverter.