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Or maybe a different way of doing it?

Problem: Electrical circuit (12vDC) on my boat is supplied from the battery but on engine start there is a brief voltage drop. This doesnt affect any equipment other than the chartplotter (marine satnav) which shuts down. When re-started it takes a minute to boot up and find itself which can be a touch nervewracking at times!

Some boats deal with this by having the instrumentation powered by a separate battery to the one that is used exclusively for starting the battery, but that isn't really economically viable to retrofit

A friend has suggested that a capacitor and diode will provide adequate temporary power to maintain the voltage until the engine start is finished. The plotter draws maximum 13 watts at minimum operating volatge of 10.8 V.

Is this viable - and if so, what size Cap?

I am not too worried about load dump as there is little else to shed!

Alternatively (it has been suggested) a circuit with a small lead acid gel 12v battery that will cut in when the voltage drops and otherwise charge up when the main circuit voltage is at normal 13+V with engine running etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ How long does the brownout last? \$\endgroup\$ – Ignacio Vazquez-Abrams Aug 28 '13 at 16:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ I can give you general consideration, i= CdV/dT ===> C = I*dT/dV, let's assume you need back up time of 20ms, Max voltage 13V, min voltage needed =10.8V, Currnent drawn = 13W/10.8V = 1.20A =======> C = 1.20A * 20ms/(13-10.8) = ~ 10mF, i didn't handled this kind of cases earlier. but general calculation is like this, for capcitors whose purpose is charge reservior \$\endgroup\$ – user19579 Aug 29 '13 at 3:55
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The voltage on a one farad cap will drop one volt per second given a uniform current draw of one ampere. Given three of the four values (capacitance C, acceptable voltage drop V, required hold time T, and current I) one can determine the value of the fourth using the equation CV=IT.

With regard to the capacitor and diode idea, you need to be aware that if one connects a large high-quality initially-discharged capacitor to an "already-on" power supply such as a battery, the cap will try to draw as much current as the supply will put out. It's conceivable a diode alone may work, but it would more likely turn into a "fryode" when the battery is connected; such a direct connection may also seriously damage the battery or the capacitor. Thus, rather than simply using a diode, you should use some kind of circuit which can safely handle that condition (charging a 1 farad cap to 12 volts will require 1200 amps for 10ms, 120 amps for 0.1 second, 12 amps for one second, or 1 amp for twelve seconds).

From an efficiency standpoint, you may be best off using a pair of switching-power-supply circuits, one of which would step your capacitor voltage up to some higher voltage, and one of which would step that higher voltage down to whatever your device needs. If your cap is charged to 12 volts, and your circuit will fail when it drops to 10, you'll only be able to use about 30% of your caps energy storage ability (the circuit will fail when the cap still has has about 70% of the energy that was put in). By contrast, if you were to charge a cap up to 35 volts and could operate down to 11 volts, and if you used a switching supply to extract energy from the cap, you could probably utilize more than 80% of the cap's energy storage capability. Given that large caps are expensive, the reduction in cap size may more than make up for the cost of the electronics.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Ok, well nominal operating voltage is 13.8V and minimum is 10.2V so I guess that makes an acceptable voltage drop of 3.6V. At max wattage the current at 10.2V is 1.3A. Time to hold probably 3 seconds, lest say 5. That makes C about 0.64. Unfortunately I wouldnt know where to begin with the switching power supply circuit though. I guess this could me more tricky than I thought :-) \$\endgroup\$ – user28129 Aug 28 '13 at 17:38
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The easiest solution may to be to install a product intended for car audio near your sensitive equipment. Here is a link to a commercial high-value capacitor rated for 12V systems: 4 Farad BOSS Capacitor

I recommend looking at reviews before deciding on a particular product.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thats what I first thought but either I'm looking for the wrong thing (ie using the wrong search terms) or it doesnt really exist. There are plenty of devices that claim to maintain a fixed voltage for a small variation of input voltage (eg 12v out for 10V to 35V in), but the ones I have seen are limited to around 800mA and I reckon I need maybe 1300ma. ANy idaes what I should ecatly be looking for here? \$\endgroup\$ – user28129 Aug 28 '13 at 17:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ You seem to be referring to DC/DC supplies where I am talking about just a passive (for all intents and purposes) component. Higher power DC/DC converters exist but I don't know their transient response or if they will be safe to use with your equipment amazon.com/DROK-Converter-Voltage-Regulator-Supply/dp/… \$\endgroup\$ – HL-SDK Aug 28 '13 at 17:48
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I'd just try the 1F cap and diode. Most double layer capacitors have enough ESR that real world inrush current will be nothing close to what calculations for an ideal capacitor would yield. Most power diodes have a short term current surge rating far in excess of their continuous rating, a three or five amp diode would probably hold up. Diodes are cheap, nothing else at risk.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Because everyone has 1 farad 12V caps handy? \$\endgroup\$ – Connor Wolf Aug 29 '13 at 9:00
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Perhaps you could set up a back up battery and use a "PWR-Gate" circuit that can be purchased off the shelf @ Ham Radio Outlet.. or built using a Schottky Diode, a heat sink and a resistor (to keep the small gel cell battery charged while not being used for back up). Off the shelf it's about $140.xx [ https://www.gigaparts.com/west-mountain-pg40s.html?gclid=CjwKEAjw3drIBRCOwfC-_qqyjQ8SJADvoWQpctYxpANF374cu4gVI3oIsr2Vc1k9ZNxoTBK-xU1-1BoCyw_w_wcB ] or you could build your own, if you are into that. I'd be happy to send you the specs on the DIY build if you want.
But basically you don't need to smoke any Caps - just buy a small gel-cel or Lead-acid battery and it's pretty much "Plug & Play". I use the DIY version for my Ham Radio station in my Winnebago and the lights don't even flicker! :-D { z m r o t u @ m a c . c o m } Good luck!

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