Capacitance

Capacitance is one of the basic concepts behind electronics, and it is widely used, as seen by the number of capacitors that are used in electronic circuits


Capacitance Tutorial Includes:
Capacitance     Capacitor formulas     Capacitive reactance     Parallel capacitors     Series capacitors     Dielectric constant & relative permittivity     Dissipation factor, loss tangent, ESR     Capacitor conversion chart    


Second to resistors, capacitors are the next most used component in the electronics industry. Capacitors find uses in all types of circuit from logic circuits, to power supplies and radio frequency circuits to audio one. In addition to this there are many types of capacitor, but despite their differences, they all rely on the basic concepts of capacitance.

What is capacitance

Capacitance is effectively the ability to store charge. In its simplest form a capacitor consists of two parallel plates. It is found that when a battery or any other voltage source is connected to the two plates as shown a current flows for a short time and one plate receives an excess of electrons, while the other has too few. In this way one plate, the one with the excess of electrons becomes negatively charge, while the other becomes positively charged.

Charge stored between two plates on a capacitor
Charge stored on two plates of a capacitor

If the battery is removed the capacitor will retain its charge. However if a resistor is placed across the plates, a current will flow until the capacitor becomes discharged.

Real capacitors

Capacitors come in a wide variety of forms, each with its own properties. The physical capacitors may be either surface mount or the traditional leaded varieties as well as having different form factors and electrical performance properties.

Note on the Types of Capacitor:

There are many different types of capacitor that are available. Although capacitance is a universal measure, different capacitors have different characteristics in terms of elements like maximum current capability, frequency response, size, voltage, stability, tolerance and the like. To accommodate these parameters some capacitor types are better than others in some applications,

Read more about Capacitor Types.

Selection of leaded & SMD types of capacitor.

Units or capacitance

It is necessary to be able to define the "size" of a capacitor. The capacitance of a capacitor is a measure of its ability to store charge, and the basic unit of capacitance is the Farad, named after Michael Faraday.

The Farad is defined: A capacitor has a capacitance of one Farad when a potential difference of one volt will charge it with one coulomb of electricity (i.e. one Amp for one second).

A capacitor with a capacitance of one Farad is too large for most electronics applications, and components with much smaller values of capacitance are normally used. Three prefixes (multipliers) are used, µ (micro), n (nano) and p (pico):

Capacitance Units Prefixes and Multipliers
Prefix Multiplier Terminology
µ 10-6 (millionth) 1000000µF = 1F
n 10-9 (thousand-millionth) 1000nF = 1µF
p 10-12 (million-millionth) 1000pF = 1nF

Capacitor charging and discharging

It is also possible to look at the voltage across the capacitor as well as looking at the charge. After all it is easier to measure the voltage on it using a simple meter. When the capacitor is discharged there is no voltage across it. Similarly, one it is fully charged no current is flowing from the voltage source and therefore it has the same voltage across it as the source.

In reality there will always be some resistance in the circuit, and therefore the capacitor will be connected to the voltage source through a resistor. This means that it will take a finite time for the capacitor to charge up, and the rise in voltage does not take place instantly. It is found that the rate at which the voltage rises is much faster at first than after it has been charging for some while. Eventually it reaches a point when it is virtually fully charged and almost no current flows. In theory the capacitor never becomes fully charged as the curve is asymptotic. However in reality it reaches a point where it can be considered to be fully charged or discharged and no current flows.

Similarly the capacitor will always discharge through a resistance. As the charge on the capacitor falls, so the voltage across the plates is reduced. This means that the current will be reduced, and in turn the rate at which the charge is reduced falls. This means that the voltage across the capacitor falls in an exponential fashion, gradually approaching zero.

The rate at which the voltage rises or decays is dependent upon the resistance in the circuit. The greater the resistance the smaller the amount of charge which is transferred and the longer it takes for the capacitor to charge or discharge.

Voltage of capacitor as it charges and discharges.
Voltage of capacitor as it charges and discharges

So far the case when a battery has been connected to charge the capacitor and disconnected and a resistor applied to charge it up have been considered. If an alternating waveform, which by its nature is continually changing is applied to the capacitor, then it will be in a continual state of charging and discharging. For this to happen a current must be flowing in the circuit. In this way a capacitor will allow an alternating current to flow, but it will block a direct current. As such capacitors are used for coupling an AC signal between two circuits which are at different steady state potentials.



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