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glossary:capacitor

Capacitor

A capacitor can store electric energy when disconnected from its charging circuit, so it can be used like a temporary battery. Capacitors are commonly used to supply energy to electronic devices without the memory being lost when changing their batteries.

Capacitors are used in power supplies where they smooth the output of a full or half wave rectifier. They can also be used in charge pump circuits as the energy storage element in the generation of higher voltages than the input voltage.

Capacitors are connected in parallel with the power circuits of most electronic devices and larger systems (such as factories) to shunt away and conceal current fluctuations from the primary power source to provide a “clean” power supply for signal or control circuits. Audio equipment, for example, uses several capacitors in this way, to shunt away power line hum before it gets into the signal circuitry. The capacitors act as a local reserve for the DC power source, and bypass AC currents from the power supply.

Capacitors may retain a charge long after power is removed from a circuit; this charge can cause shocks (sometimes fatal) or damage to connected equipment. For example, even a seemingly innocuous device such as a disposable camera flash unit powered by a 1.5 volt AA battery contains a capacitor which may be charged to over 300 volts. This is easily capable of delivering an extremely painful, and possibly lethal shock.

Hazard Warning

Many capacitors have low equivalent series resistance (ESR), so can deliver large currents into short circuits, and this can be dangerous. Care must be taken to ensure that any large or high-voltage capacitor is properly discharged before servicing the containing equipment. For safety purposes, all large capacitors should be discharged before handling. For board-level capacitors, this is done by placing a bleeder resistor across the terminals, whose resistance is large enough that the leakage current will not affect the circuit, but small enough to discharge the capacitor shortly after power is removed. High-voltage capacitors should be stored with the terminals shorted to dissipate any stored charge.

glossary/capacitor.txt · Last modified: 2014/11/11 13:29 (external edit)