I just have a simple question that I can't find a simple answer to anywhere.
Is it possible to exceed the breakdown voltage of a power MOSFET (to short circuit it) without causing permanent damage?
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Many MOSFETs are characterized to allow overvoltage and the subsequent breakdown of drain to source provided the energy limits in avalanche are not exceeded. Provided you don't exceed these limits the device will not be damaged and will perform to the manufacturer's specification.
For example, this is a section of an IRFP254PBF power FET datasheet.
Both single event and repetitive event energies are listed. Provided you meet these limits the device will not be damaged.