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31st, 2007

**Charging and discharging a capacitor
**

The capacitor is a fundamental component in many electrical circuits. It has many applications, such as noise removal, coupling, and energy storage to mention a few uses. A capacitor stores electrical energy in the form of charge, thus it is necessary to understand how a capacitor is charged and discharged in a circuit. Capacitance, voltage, and charge A capacitor is basically two conductive plates in very close proximity to each other, still no electrical path may exist between them. If both plates have equal electrical charge, the net charge is zero and the capacitor is uncharged. If there exists a difference in electrical charge between the plates, the capacitor as such carries a charge, causing a voltage difference between the terminals of the capacitor. The relationship for this is

Where is the charge of the capacitor (in Coulombs), is the capacitance of the capacitor, and is the voltage between the capacitor terminals. The capacitance describes how many Coulombs of charge the capacitor can store for each volt applied across its terminal, i.e. its capacity. If the voltage and charge can change over time, we can rewrite the equation as

As the voltage over the capacitor terminals changes, the amount of charge stored in the capacitor changes too. The meaning of electrical current can be broken down into change in charge per change in time, i.e.

By integrating this, we obtain

From which we see that charge equals the integral of current over time. If we modify the equation for capacitor charge and solve for capacitor voltage, we get

We move the term to the left-hand side and factor out C. We start the analysis by applying Kirchoff’s voltage law. plus the voltage of the capacitor. refers to the initial voltage of the capacitor when we begin Charging using a constant voltage A typical circuit for charging a capacitor is using a constant charge voltage and a series resistance to set the charge time. we can factor out on the right-hand side. Both cases will be treated in this text. First. 31st. integrating the current. the input voltage must be equal to the voltage drop over the resistor. We then apply the Laplace transform and are left with Next. . we can modify this equation into An expression for the current must be obtained before the capacitor voltage can be calculated.http://esorol.tarjoaa. Two situations can be identified here. an expression for the capacitor voltage as a function of time elapsed since charging began will be derived. Such a circuit is shown in the figure. For this situation. Assuming that is constant. Simultaneously. we multiply by C. the Laplace transform is applied.fi/ Oct. In this section. knowing that the voltage drop over a resistor equals current times resistance and the equation for capacitor voltage. 2007 In this equation. This can be expressed mathematically as For the capacitor to charge. must be greater than . we multiply both sides by s. the capacitor can have an initial voltage or not.

fi/ Oct. To obtain the capacitor voltage. 2007 We divide by and the result is This cannot easily be inverse-transformed.e. The expression for now becomes Which can be inverse-transformed into This is the expression for the current in the circuit. at any given time. . If the initial capacitor voltage is zero. i. The voltage follows a logarithmic curve. The equation can now be simplified into an inverse-transformable expression. 31st.http://esorol. The capacitor voltage approaches the charge voltage at the end of the charge process.tarjoaa.e. We factor out RC from the left factor. This is the final expression for the capacitor voltage. but we introduce an R factor in the right-hand side. the slope of which is dependent on the resistance R and capacitance C. we integrate this expression. i.

and . the rate of charge of the capacitor depends on the product of R and C. Solution: A. determine a) The time constant. The time constant is and when The charging B. At 4τ. b) The voltages at 1τ. the capacitor has charged to about 86 %. the voltage is at about 98 %. the voltage is at roughly 95 %. the voltages at the given points in time are: . 31st. 2007 Then the equation simplifies into As said. When 1τ has elapsed since charging commenced. the voltages at the specified points in time are: If the initial voltage of the capacitor is 2 V.http://esorol. a 1 MΩ resistor and 1 μF capacitor produce . If the initial voltage of the capacitor is 0 V. This is usually called the time constant and denoted by the Greek letter tau: The unit of is seconds. C. the capacitor has charged to about 63 % of its final voltage. and at 5τ around 99 %.fi/ Oct.g. At 2τ.tarjoaa. After 2τ. Example: Given a capacitor and resistor . E. This is valid for all values of R. 2τ and 3τ when voltage is .

The x-axis has units in seconds. The time needed to charge to a certain voltage is given by Where is the voltage to be achieved. This section analyzes the discharge process.fi/ Oct. 2007 The situation is illustrated in the graph below. 31st. The red curve corresponds to the uncharged capacitor.tarjoaa. The circuit is basically the same as in the .http://esorol. Discharging using a constant voltage Discharging a capacitor with a constant voltage yields similar results as the charging process. while the green curve represents the charged capacitor. the y-axis is in volts.

fi/ Oct.http://esorol. causing charge to decrease. If . we integrate the current.tarjoaa. Proceeding as in the previous section and applying the Laplace transform. 31st. observing that the integral is negative as the capacitor is discharged. the time constant τ determines the rate of discharge. the equation simplifies into . To obtain the voltage of the capacitor. Again. we obtain Which can be inverse-transformed into When compared to the equation for charging. and the capacitor voltage approaches by the end of the discharge. This arises from the fact that the capacitor is now being discharged. a difference can be noted in that the integral is now negative. 2007 previous section. We apply Kirchoff’s voltage law and get Where is assumed to be constant. but now the input voltage is assumed to be less than causing the capacitor to discharge. the voltages have been interchanged as was assumed greater than . If compared to the previous section. an expression for the circuit current is obtained. Approaching the problem similarly as in the previous section.

Solution: A. determine a) The time constant. 2007 After 1τ has passed. 31st. Example: Given a capacitor and resistor . 2τ and 3τ when voltage is . The time constant is and when The charging B. at 2τ to 14 %. the voltages at the specified points in time are: .http://esorol.fi/ Oct. the capacitor has discharged to about 37 % of its final voltage. the voltages at the specified points in time are: If the discharge voltage is . b) The voltages at 1τ. at 4τ to 2% and at 5τ to 1 %. If the discharge voltage is . at 3τ to 5 %.tarjoaa.

31st.http://esorol. The x-axis has units in seconds. the y-axis is in volts. 2007 The situation is illustrated in the graph below. The time required to discharge the capacitor to a certain voltage is given by Where is the voltage to be achieved. The red curve corresponds to .fi/ Oct. while the green curve represents . By assuming that We can now obtain the capacitor voltage as .tarjoaa. Charging and discharging with a constant current A capacitor can also be charged and discharged using a constant current.

the shape of the curve is now linear. If the desired process is discharge.fi/ Oct. 31st. a minus sign should be placed in front of the fraction. The time it takes for the capacitor to charge to a certain voltage is given by Where is the voltage to be achieved.http://esorol. 2007 This equation is valid for the charging process. Additionally. Similarly. the time needed for discharging to a certain level is given by . resulting in The rate of charge/discharge is thus dependent on the current magnitude and the capacitance.tarjoaa.

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