In this capacitor, a thin polyester film is used as a dielectric. These components are inexpensive, temperature stable, and widely used. Tolerance is approximately 5–10 percent. It can be quite large depending on capacity or rated voltage.
In radio and radar transmitters, voltages high enough to cause arcing, or breakdown, of paper dielectrics are often used. Consequently, in these applications capacitors that use oil or oil impregnated paper for the dielectric material are preferred. Capacitors of this type are considerably more expensive than ordinary paper capacitors, and their use is generally restricted to radio and radar transmitting equipment. [Figure 12-120]
Variable capacitors are mostly used in radio tuning circuits, and they are sometimes called “tuning capacitors.” They have very small capacitance values, typically between 100 pF and 500 pF.
The trimmer is actually an adjustable or variable capacitor, which uses ceramic or plastic as a dielectric. Most of them are color coded to easily recognize their tunable size. The ceramic type has the value printed on them. Colors are: yellow (5 pF), blue (7 pF), white (10 pF), green (30 pF), and brown (60 pF).
A voltage-variable capacitor or varactor is also known as a variable capacitance diode or a varicap. This device utilizes the variation of the barrier width in a reversed-biased diode. Because the barrier width of a diode acts as a non-conductor, a diode forms a capacitor when reversed biased. Essentially, the N-type material becomes one plate and the junctions are the dielectric. If the reversed-bias voltage is increased, then the barrier width widens, effectively separating the two capacitor plates and reducing the capacitance.
Capacitors in Series
When capacitors are placed in series, the effective plate separation is increased and the total capacitance is less than that of the smallest capacitor. Additionally, the series combination is capable of withstanding a higher total potential difference than any of the individual capacitors. Figure 12-121 is a simple series circuit.
The bottom plate of C1 and the top plate of C2 is charged by electrostatic induction. The capacitors charge as current is established through the circuit. Since this is a series circuit, the current must be the same at all points. Since the current is the rate of flow of charge, the amount of charge (Q) stored by each capacitor is equal to the total charge.
According to Kirchhoff’s Voltage Law, the sum of the voltages across the charged capacitors must equal the total voltage, ET. This is expressed as:
Equation E = Q/C can now be substituted into the voltage equation where we now get:
Since the charge on all capacitors is equal, the Q terms can be factored out, leaving us with the equation:
Consider the following example:
Capacitors in Parallel
When capacitors are connected in parallel, the effective plate area increases, and the total capacitance is the sum of the individual capacitances. Figure 12-122 shows a simplified parallel circuit.
The total charging current from the source divides at the junction of the parallel branches. There is a separate charging current through each branch so that a different charge can be stored by each capacitor. Using Kirchhoff’s Current Law, the sum of all of the charging currents is then equal to the total current. The sum of the charges (Q) on the capacitors is equal to the total charge. The voltages (E) across all of the parallel branches are equal. With all of this in mind, a general equation for capacitors in parallel can be determined as:
Voltages can be factored out because:
Leaving us with the equation for capacitors in parallel:
Consider the following example:
Capacitors in Alternating Current
If a source of AC is substituted for the battery, the capacitor acts quite differently than it does with DC. When AC is applied in the circuit, the charge on the plates constantly changes. [Figure 12-123]
This means that electricity must flow first from Y clockwise around to X, then from X counterclockwise around to Y, then from Y clockwise around to X, and so on. Although no current flows through the insulator between the plates of the capacitor, it constantly flows in the remainder of the circuit between X and Y. In a circuit where there is only capacitance, current leads the applied voltage as contrasted with a circuit in which there is inductance, where the current lags the voltage.
Capacitive Reactance Xc
The effectiveness of a capacitor in allowing an AC flow to pass depends upon the capacitance of the circuit and the applied frequency. To what degree a capacitor allows an AC flow to pass depends largely upon the capacitive value of the capacitor given in farads (f). The greater the capacitance of the capacitor, the greater the number of electrons, measured in Coulombs, necessary to bring the capacitor to a fully charged state. Once the capacitor approaches or actually reaches a fully charged condition, the polarity of the capacitor opposes the polarity of the applied voltage, essentially acting then as an open circuit. To further illustrate this characteristic and how it manifests itself in an AC circuit, consider the following. If a capacitor has a large capacitive value, meaning that it requires a relatively large number of electrons to bring it to a fully charged state, then a rather high-frequency current can alternate through the capacitor without the capacitor ever reaching a full charge. In this case, if the frequency is high enough and the capacitance large enough that there is never enough time for the capacitor to ever reach a full charge, it is possible that the capacitor may offer very little or no resistance to the current. However, the smaller the capacitance, the fewer electrons are required to bring it up to a full charge and it is more likely that the capacitor will build up enough of an opposing charge that it can present a great deal of resistance to the current if not to the point of behaving like an open circuit. In between these two extreme conditions lies a continuum of possibilities of current opposition depending on the combination of applied frequency and the selected capacitance. Current in an AC circuit can be controlled by changing the circuit capacitance in a similar manner that resistance can control the current. The actual AC reactance Xc, which just like resistance, is measured in ohms (Ω). Capacitive reactance Xc is determined by the following:
A series circuit is assumed in which the impressed voltage is 110 volts at 60 cps, and the capacitance of a condenser is 80 Mf. Find the capacitive reactance and the current flow.
To find capacitive reactance, the equation Xc = 1/(2pfC) is used. First, the capacitance, 80 Mf, is changed to farads by dividing 80 by 1,000,000, since 1 million microfarads is equal to 1 farad. This quotient equals 0.000080 farad. This is substituted in the equation and:
Once the reactance has been determined, Ohm’s Law can then be used in the same manner as it is used in DC circuits to determine the current.
Capacitive Reactances in Series and in Parallel
When capacitors are connected in series, the total reactance is equal to the sum of the individual reactances. Thus,
The total reactance of capacitors connected in parallel is found in the same way total resistance is computed in a parallel circuit:
Phase of Current and Voltage in Reactive Circuits
Unlike a purely resistive circuit, the capacitive and inductive reactance has a significant effect on the phase relationship between the applied AC voltage and the corresponding current in the circuit.
In review, when current and voltage pass through zero and reach maximum value at the same time, the current and voltage are said to be in phase. [Figure 12-124A] If the current and voltage pass through zero and reach the maximum values at different times, the current and voltage are said to be out of phase. In a circuit containing only inductance, the current reaches a maximum value later than the voltage, lagging the voltage by 90°, or one-fourth cycle. [Figure 12-124B]
In a circuit containing only capacitance, the current reaches its maximum value ahead of the voltage and the current leads the voltage by 90°, or one-fourth cycle. [Figure 12-124C] The amount the current lags or leads the voltage in a circuit depends on the relative amounts of resistance, inductance, and capacitance in the circuit.