Counter-electromotive force

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The counter-electromotive force (abbreviated counter EMF, or CEMF),[1] also known as the back electromotive force, is the voltage, or electromotive force, that pushes against the current which induces it. CEMF is the voltage drop in an alternating current (AC) circuit caused by magnetic induction (see Faraday's law of induction, electromagnetic induction, Lenz's Law). For example, the voltage drop across an inductor is due to the induced magnetic field inside the coil.[1][2] The voltage's polarity is at every moment the reverse of the input voltage.[1][3]

The term back electromotive force, or just back-EMF, is most commonly used to refer to the voltage that occurs in electric motors where there is relative motion between the armature of the motor and the magnetic field from the motor's field magnets, or windings. From Faraday's law, the voltage is proportional to the magnetic field, length of wire in the armature, and the speed of the motor. This effect is not due to the motor's inductance and is a completely separate effect.

In a motor using a rotating armature in the presence of a magnetic flux, the conductors cut the magnetic field lines as they rotate. This produces a voltage in the coil; the motor is acting like a generator (Faraday's law of induction) at the same time it is a motor. This voltage opposes the original applied voltage; therefore, it is called "back-electromotive force" (by Lenz's law). With a lower overall voltage across the armature, the current flowing into the motor is reduced.[4] One practical application is to use this phenomenon to indirectly measure motor speed and position, since the back-EMF is proportional to the armature rotational speed.[5]

In motor control and robotics, the term "Back-EMF" often refers most specifically to actually using the voltage generated by a spinning motor to infer the speed of the motor's rotation for use in better controlling the motor in specific ways.[6]

To observe the effect of Back-EMF of a motor, one can perform this simple exercise. With an incandescent light on, cause a large motor such as a drill press, saw, air conditioner compressor, or vacuum cleaner to start. The light may dim briefly as the motor starts. When the armature is not turning (called locked rotor) there is no Back-EMF and the motor's current draw is quite high. If the motor's starting current is high enough it will pull the line voltage down enough to notice the dimming of the light.


  1. ^ a b c Graf, "counterelectromotive force", Dictionary of Electronics
  2. ^ Griffiths, David Jeffery. (2012). Introduction to Electrodynamics (3rd ed.). 
  3. ^ Naval Electrical Engineering Training Series, Module 02 - Introduction to Alternating Current and transformers", Inductance, self-inductance
  4. ^ "Nuclear Power Fundamentals Training Manuals". DC Generators, Counter-Electromotive Force (CEMF), DC Equipment Terminology, Electrical Science Volume 2.
  5. ^ "Back-EMF". 2006-08-07. Retrieved 2010-02-07. 
  6. ^ "Back EMF Motion Feedback" Back EMF Motion Feedback

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