Capacitors: Functions, Types, Uses, and How to Choose the Right One

March 15, 2024

What is a Capacitor and What does it do

A capacitor is an essential electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field. It consists of two conductive plates separated by a non-conductive material called a dielectric. When a voltage is applied across the plates, electric charge accumulates on them, creating an electric field between the plates. This electric field stores energy in the form of potential energy.

Capacitors are widely used in electronic circuits for various purposes, including energy storage, filtering, coupling, decoupling, timing, and signal processing. They can store and release electrical energy quickly, making them valuable in applications such as power supply stabilization, signal conditioning, and timing circuits.

Capacitors come in various types, sizes, and capacitance values to suit different applications. The capacitance of a capacitor, measured in farads (F), determines its ability to store charge. Capacitors with higher capacitance values can store more charge than those with lower values.

Overall, capacitors play a crucial role in modern electronics, contributing to the functionality, stability, and performance of electronic circuits in a wide range of devices and systems.


Capacitor Functions

What is the function of a capacitor?what a capacitor is used for? Below, we have compiled a list of 16 capacitor functions.

1. Coupling:
Capacitors used in coupling circuits are called coupling capacitors. They are extensively used in resistance-capacitance (RC) coupled amplifiers and other capacitor-coupled circuits to block DC and allow only AC signals to pass.

2. Filtering:
Capacitors used in filtering circuits are called filtering capacitors. They are utilized in power supply filtering and various filter circuits to remove specific frequency components from the total signal.

3. Decoupling:
Capacitors used in decoupling circuits are called decoupling capacitors. They are employed in the DC voltage supply circuits of multi-stage amplifiers to eliminate harmful low-frequency coupling between amplifier stages.

4. High-frequency Damping:
Capacitors used in high-frequency damping circuits are called high-frequency damping capacitors. In audio negative feedback amplifiers, to eliminate possible high-frequency oscillations, these capacitor circuits are used to suppress high-frequency squealing.

5. Resonance:
Capacitors used in LC resonance circuits are called resonance capacitors. Both parallel and series LC resonance circuits require this type of capacitor circuit.

6. Bypass:
Capacitors used in bypass circuits are called bypass capacitors. If a circuit needs to remove certain frequency components from a signal, bypass capacitor circuits can be used. Depending on the frequency of the removed signal, there are all-frequency-domain (all AC signals) bypass capacitor circuits and high-frequency bypass capacitor circuits.

7. Neutralization:
Capacitors used in neutralization circuits are called neutralization capacitors. In radio high-frequency and intermediate-frequency amplifiers, and television high-frequency amplifiers, these neutralization capacitor circuits are used to eliminate self-excitation.

8. Timing:
Capacitors used in timing circuits are called timing capacitors. Timing capacitor circuits are used in circuits where time control is achieved through capacitor charging and discharging. The capacitor controls the size of the time constant.

9. Integration:
Capacitors used in integration circuits are called integration capacitors. In synchronous separation circuits for potential field scanning, these integration capacitor circuits can extract field synchronous signals from composite synchronous signals.

10. Differentiation:
Capacitors used in differentiation circuits are called differentiation capacitors. In trigger circuits, to obtain sharp trigger signals, these differentiation capacitor circuits are used to obtain sharp pulse trigger signals from various (mainly rectangular pulse) signals.

11. Compensation:
Capacitors used in compensation circuits are called compensation capacitors. In tonearm low-frequency compensation circuits, these low-frequency compensation capacitor circuits are used to enhance low-frequency signals in audio signals. Additionally, there are high-frequency compensation capacitor circuits.

12. Bootstrap:
Capacitors used in bootstrap circuits are called bootstrap capacitors. This type of capacitor circuit is commonly used in output stage circuits of OTL (Output Transformerless) power amplifiers to slightly boost the positive half-cycle amplitude of signals through positive feedback.

13. Frequency Division:
Capacitors used in frequency division circuits are called frequency division capacitors. In speaker crossover circuits, frequency division capacitor circuits are used to operate high-frequency speakers in the high-frequency range, mid-frequency speakers in the mid-frequency range, and low-frequency speakers in the low-frequency range.

14. Temperature Compensation:
Capacitors used to compensate for the lack of adaptability of other components to temperature, improving circuit stability.

15. Rectification:
Half-open or half-closed semiconductor switch elements at predetermined times.

16. Energy Storage:
To store electrical energy for release when necessary. For example, in camera flash units, heating devices, etc. Today, the energy storage level of some capacitors is approaching that of lithium batteries. The energy stored in a capacitor can power a mobile phone for a day.


Common Types of Capacitor and its Uses

Capacitors come in various types, each designed for specific applications due to their unique characteristics. Here are some common types of capacitors along with their typical uses:

1. Ceramic Capacitors:
Ceramic capacitors are versatile and widely used in various applications, including decoupling, filtering, coupling, timing circuits, and high-frequency applications. They come in different ceramic materials, each offering specific properties like stability, temperature coefficient, and dielectric constant.

2. Electrolytic Capacitors:
Electrolytic capacitors are polarized capacitors known for their high capacitance values. They are commonly used in power supply filtering, energy storage, audio applications, and low-frequency coupling applications. Aluminum electrolytic capacitors and tantalum electrolytic capacitors are two common types.

3. Tantalum Capacitors:
Tantalum capacitors offer high capacitance density in a small package size, making them suitable for compact electronic devices. They are commonly used in power supplies, filtering, decoupling, and bypass applications.

4. Film Capacitors:
Film capacitors are known for their excellent stability, low dielectric losses, and high reliability. They are used in timing circuits, filtering, decoupling, coupling, motor run capacitors, and high-frequency applications. Types include polyester (Mylar), polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate (PET) film capacitors.

5. Polymer Capacitors:
Polymer capacitors, including conductive polymer aluminum electrolytic capacitors and solid polymer tantalum capacitors, offer improved performance and reliability compared to traditional electrolytic capacitors. They are used in power supplies, decoupling, filtering, and high-performance applications.

6. Supercapacitors (Ultracapacitors):
Supercapacitors offer high energy storage and fast charging/discharging capabilities. They are used in applications requiring burst power delivery, energy storage in renewable energy systems, backup power supplies, regenerative braking systems, and other high-power applications.

7. Variable Capacitors:
Variable capacitors allow the adjustment of capacitance value manually or electronically. They are used in tuning circuits of radios, antennas, oscillators, and voltage-controlled oscillators (VCOs).

8. Mica Capacitors:
Mica capacitors offer stable performance, low losses, and high precision. They are used in high-frequency and high-voltage applications, precision timing circuits, resonant circuits, and RF circuits.

9. Glass Capacitors:
Glass capacitors provide excellent stability, low dielectric losses, and high reliability at high temperatures. They are used in high-temperature and high-frequency applications, such as microwave circuits, RF amplifiers, and oscillators.

Choosing the right type of capacitor depends on factors such as capacitance value, voltage rating, frequency, temperature, size constraints, and application requirements. It's essential to select a capacitor type that meets the specific needs of your circuit to ensure optimal performance and reliability.

How to Choose the Right Capacitor

Choosing the right capacitor involves considering several factors based on your specific application requirements. Here are some key steps to guide you through the selection process:

1. Capacitance Value (pF): Determine the required capacitance value for your circuit. This value is usually specified in farads (F), microfarads (µF), nanofarads (nF), or picofarads (pF). Ensure that the chosen capacitor has a capacitance value within the required range. For example, if you need a 600 pF capacitor, ensure that the chosen capacitor has a capacitance close to this value.

2. Voltage Rating (V): Consider the voltage rating of the capacitor. It should be higher than the maximum voltage expected in your circuit to avoid breakdown or failure. Select a capacitor with a voltage rating comfortably higher than the maximum voltage in your circuit to provide a safety margin.

3. Capacitor Type: Choose the appropriate capacitor type based on your application requirements. Common types include ceramic, electrolytic, tantalum, and film capacitors. Each type has its own characteristics, advantages, and limitations. For example, ceramic capacitors are widely used for general-purpose applications, while electrolytic capacitors are suitable for applications requiring higher capacitance values.

4. Temperature Stability: Consider the operating temperature range of your application and choose a capacitor with suitable temperature stability. Some capacitors are designed to operate over a wide temperature range, while others may have limitations. Ensure that the chosen capacitor can withstand the temperature extremes expected in your application.

5. Tolerance: Capacitors have a tolerance rating, which indicates the allowable deviation from the specified capacitance value. Choose a capacitor with a tolerance that meets your accuracy requirements. For example, if precise capacitance is critical for your circuit, choose a capacitor with a low tolerance rating.

6. Frequency Response: Consider the frequency response of the capacitor, especially if your application involves AC signals or high-frequency circuits. Different types of capacitors have different frequency characteristics, so choose one that suits your frequency requirements.

7. Size and Package: Consider the physical size and package of the capacitor, especially if space is limited in your application. Choose a capacitor that fits within the available space and is compatible with your circuit layout.

8. Reliability and Quality: Choose capacitors from reputable manufacturers known for their quality and reliability. Ensure that the chosen capacitors meet relevant industry standards and have undergone proper testing and certification.

During choose a capacitor, the following comprehensive experiences are also valuable references.

1. Frequency of Use
If a circuit operates at an extremely high frequency, exceeding MHz, and the signal strength is weak, then multilayer ceramic capacitors are the best choice. Despite both being used for filtering and energy storage discharge, when the working frequency is fixed, consideration must be given to whether the frequency characteristics of different types of capacitors match the circuit's working frequency. This is because each type of capacitor has its own suitable frequency range. As the working or testing frequency increases, the capacitance value gradually decreases, and losses gradually increase. Capacitor frequency response refers to the capacity and losses exhibited by a capacitor at different frequencies. Capacitors with appropriate frequency responses should be selected based on the actual requirements of the circuit. For example, if the circuit involves high-frequency signal processing, capacitors with better frequency response should be chosen to maintain signal quality.
- If the working frequency is below the mid-frequency range and there is a high requirement for the consistency of capacitor parameters at different temperatures, then solid tantalum capacitors may be more suitable. Sometimes, you must compromise on their performance characteristics, and it is essential to understand which aspect of a certain type of capacitor is the reason for its necessary selection.

2. Environmental Temperature Change Requirements
Currently, solid tantalum capacitors have the best temperature characteristics. The variation rate of the capacity of certain high-voltage solid tantalum capacitors in the temperature range of -55°C to +125°C can be controlled within -3% to +5%. For aerospace circuits to meet usage requirements, capacitors must have outstanding temperature characteristics. Temperature coefficient refers to the percentage change in capacitance with temperature. Capacitors with appropriate temperature coefficients should be selected based on the actual requirements of the circuit. For example, if the working temperature of the circuit varies greatly, capacitors with smaller temperature coefficients should be chosen to maintain circuit performance stability. The ranking of capacitor temperature characteristics from good to bad is roughly as follows: tantalum capacitors ≥ NPO ceramic capacitors ≥ solid aluminum capacitors ≥ liquid tantalum capacitors ≥ mica capacitors ≥ multilayer ceramic capacitors (MLCC) ≥ liquid aluminum capacitors.

3. Input and Output Power Levels
In very low power consumption and high-frequency mobile electronic products, even if there is a large leakage current and low ESR, it is generally difficult for products to have quality problems, unless the capacitors themselves are defective. When used in circuits with high input and output power levels, such as power filtering and discharge circuits, capacitors not only need to have lower ESR but also must have very low leakage current. Otherwise, it may increase the probability of breakdown and the output power waveform may not meet the requirements. Since capacitors of different types have different volume capacities, when designing, capacitors with sufficient capacity and voltage resistance should be selected according to the output power requirements. Capacitor losses refer to the losses of electric energy when passing through capacitors. Capacitors with smaller losses should be selected based on the actual requirements of the circuit. For example, if there is high-frequency signal transmission in the circuit, capacitors with smaller losses should be chosen to reduce signal loss. When used in filtering circuits, capacitors must withstand the heating impact caused by certain frequency and amplitude of AC voltage and AC current. At the same time, capacitors must withstand the inevitable DC high-voltage and large-current surge during switching. Therefore, the capacitors used in such circuits must choose capacitors with appropriate specifications and types. Simply considering DC voltage resistance is far from enough. You must also consider that different capacitors have different surge withstand capabilities. The ranking of capacitor surge withstand capabilities is as follows: MLCC ≥ wound polyester film capacitors ≥ film niobium oxide capacitors ≥ polymer tantalum capacitors ≥ polymer solid aluminum capacitors ≥ manganese dioxide cathode tantalum capacitors ≥ liquid aluminum capacitors ≥ liquid tantalum.

5. Voltage Levels
For circuits with higher voltages, serious consequences may occur once breakdown occurs. Therefore, safety is the first consideration. Voltage resistance is the maximum voltage that a capacitor can withstand. To ensure the safe operation of the circuit, capacitors with appropriate voltage resistance should be selected according to the actual voltage in the circuit. Generally, the voltage resistance value of capacitors should be higher than the highest voltage that may occur in the circuit. High-voltage ceramic capacitors have the highest safety, followed by polyester capacitors and high-voltage aluminum capacitors. The lowest voltage resistance is for polymer capacitors and niobium oxide capacitors.

6. Price
Sometimes, capacitors are also widely used in consumer disposable products with low selling prices. When the impact of price on profit is significant, safety becomes more important. Absolutely cannot choose capacitors with insufficient reliability by sacrificing safety. In practice, excessive consideration of cost often leads to results contrary to expectations.

7. Comprehensive Factors
Many times, the characteristics of circuit signals are very complex. At this time, the rational selection of capacitors must be based on a thorough understanding of the performance characteristics of various capacitors. Since capacitor manufacturers have deeper knowledge of capacitors, users can request more detailed technical services from capacitor manufacturers. They can even require the manufacturer to provide certain types of capacitors must pass certain special experiments.

8. Packaging and Shape
Choose suitable packaging and shapes according to circuit layout and space requirements. Different packaging and shapes have different characteristics and applicable scenarios, and should be selected according to actual conditions.

Capacitors are the most failure-prone electronic components in all electronic equipment. According to statistics, more than 70% of failures in power circuits are directly related to capacitors, and this proportion is even higher in high-power devices. Therefore, reasonable capacitor selection can avoid many quality problems and circuit signal problems. Sometimes, correct selection is even more important than reasonable circuit design. Therefore, capacitor selection has become a part of the complex circuit system manufacturing engineering and must be given equal attention by capacitor manufacturers and circuit designers. This step is essential for both parties. At the same time, when purchasing capacitors, attention should also be paid to some issues, such as choosing reputable suppliers and checking product certifications. By carefully considering these factors, you can select the right capacitor for your specific application, ensuring optimal performance and reliability.

Related Post: Top MLCC Manufacturers in the world

Disclaimer: This article is provided for general information and reference purposes only. The opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints expressed by the author of this article do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs, and viewpoints of Cytech Systems or official policies of Cytech Systems.

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