Power Tip 51: Be aware of capacitor parasitics

August 27, 2012 //By Robert Kollman
Power Tip 51: Be aware of capacitor parasitics
Robert Kollman of Texas Instruments explains why you need to be wary of capacitor parasitics.

(Editor's note :
Power Tips is an ongoing series; to see a linked list of entries, click here:)

Power supply ripple and transient specifications establish the requirements for the amount of capacitance you will need. They also set limits on the capacitors' parasitic components.

Figure 1 shows a capacitor's basic parasitic components, which consist of the equivalent series resistance (ESR) and equivalent series inductance (ESL). It also graphs the impedance of three capacitor styles (ceramic, aluminum electrolytic and aluminum polymer), versus frequency.

Table 1 shows the values used to generate the curves. These are typical values you might find in a low-voltage (1V – 2.5V), medium current (5A) sync-buck power supply.

Capacitor Style Capacitance (uF) ESR
Aluminum Electrolytic 1000205
Aluminum Polymer 220105
Table 1: Comparing three capacitor styles, each has its strength.



At low frequencies, all three capacitors show no signs of parasitic components as the impedance is clearly a function of the capacitance alone. However, the aluminum electrolytic capacitor impedance stops diminishing and begins to look resistive at a relatively low frequency. This resistive characteristic continues to a relatively high frequency where the capacitor turns inductive. The aluminum polymer capacitor is the next capacitor to deviate from ideal. Interestingly, it has a low ESR and the ESL becomes apparent. The ceramic capacitor also has a low ESR, but since it has a smaller case size, its ESL is less than that of the aluminum polymer and aluminum electrolytic capacitors.



Figure 1: Parasitics alter the impedance of ceramic, aluminum, and aluminum polymer capacitors differently.


Figure 2 presents the power supply output capacitor waveforms from a continuous sync-buck regulator simulation operating at 500 kHz. It uses the dominant impedances of the three capacitors in Figure 1 : capacitance for the ceramic; ESR for the aluminum; and ESL for the aluminum polymer.



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