I am working on a high current application, and I am wondering, which maximizes current (over a short period of time), using a bank of small caps, or using fewer large caps?
closed as not a real question by Kellenjb, Olin Lathrop, Kevin Vermeer May 22 '12 at 14:07
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Go for the larger one. There's lots of talk about lower ESR for the smaller ones, but I checked on Digikey, and it all seems to make very little difference. Of the 1000\$\mu\$F/25V electrolytics the ones with the lowest ESR listed are 38m\$\Omega\$, USD 1.77. A 10000\$\mu\$F/25V with 50m\$\Omega\$ ESR costs USD 3. So that's not much difference. Lower is possible at a price.
The single 10000\$\mu\$F will also take far less space than 10 \$\times\$ 1000\$\mu\$F.
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One reason is the one stated by Wouter: parallelizing capacitors allows to sum their capacity decreasing the series resistance. So you can handle bigger currents with less dissipation and heating.
The other reason can merely be cost-availability: high voltage, high cap capacitors are much more expensive and difficult to find than smaller ones, and using more of them may result easier.
I assume that "high current over a small time" means that
An issue can be "ripple" current, the ability of capacitors to tolerate high RMS current flow. This usually relates to frequent discharge a lower rates than you are using but there are some common points.
Ripple current per microfarad is often increased by reducing capacitor sizes. eg a 2200 uF capacitor may have a 3A ripple current rating but the 1000 uF caps in the same series may have a 2.5A rating so 2 x 1000 uF caps give 5A rating compared to 3.5A for the 2200 uF.
Similarly, pulse discharge ratings may be improved with smaller caps overall. Data sheets should help. Caps can be had which are designed for pulse discharge use.
High discharge current example:
Made up figures. Specify what's actually wanted for better results.
100,000+ uF (= >= 100 mF)
For whatever reason, say you decided to use capacitors as per this reasonably usefull detailed data sheet from EPCOS.
(1) 100,000 uF, 40VDC, 64mm dia, 100mm tall can
(2) 10 x 10,000 uF, x 10 caps used.
36mm dia x 56mm tall. 330% of area of one cap. 60% of height About double volume
ESR's 16 & 37. Divide by 10 = 1.6, 3.7 = 2+ x better than 100 mF.
Impedance 34 m.ohm. About 50% of 1 mcap for 10 IF you can get leads short. Probably worse.
Max AC current 1= 18A, 6.3A. 10 caps = 180A, 63A. 4 x better than one cap at 40C. 3+ times better at 85C.
Case limits current to 34A or 340A for 10.
The biggest gain for using 10 is ripple current or peak allowed discharge current.
1 x 100 mF is 45A AND is case limited.
ie if discharging VERY heavily the 10 x caps are 180/45 = 4 times higher current rated.
Power out: 180A x 30V = 5400 Watt / 5.4 kw / ~= 7 horsepower.
Energy out for discharge from 30V to 20V