Q Factor definition The Q factor of a capacitor, also known as the quality factor, or simply Q, represents the efficiency of a given capacitor in terms of energy losses. It is defined as: where QC is the quality factor, XC is the reactance of the capacitor, C the capacitance of the capacitor, RC is the equivalent series resistance (ESR) of the capacitor, and ω0 is the frequency in radians at which the measurement is taken. In an AC system, the Q factor represents the ratio of energy stored in the capacitor to the energy dissipated as thermal losses in the equivalent series resistance. For example, a capacitor that is capable of storing 2000 joules of energy while wasting only 1 joule has a Q factor of 2000. Since Q is the measure of efficiency, an ideal capacitor would have an infinite value of Q meaning that no energy is lost at all in the process of storing energy. This is derived from the fact that the ESR of an ideal capacitor equals zero. The Q factor is not a constant value. It changes significantly with frequency for two reasons. The first reason is the obvious ω0 term in the above equation. The second reason is that ESR is not a constant value with regard to frequency. The ESR varies with frequency due to the skin effect, as well as other effects related to the dielectric characteristics. A related term, called the dissipation factor(DF), is sometimes defined in capacitor datasheets instead of the Q-factor. In AC circuits the DF is simply the reciprocal value of Q. Why is the Q factor important? Most applications do not have to take the Q factor into serious consideration, and standard capacitors may be used in those applications. However, the Q factor is one [… read more]

Dielectric materials Dielectric materials are essentially insulators, which means that no current will flow through the material when a voltage is applied. However, certain changes do happen at the atomic scale. When a voltage is applied across a dielectric object, it becomes polarized. Since atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus and negatively charged electrons, polarization is an effect which slightly shifts electrons towards the positive voltage. They do not travel far enough to create a current flow through the material – the shift is microscopic, but has a very important effect, especially when dealing with capacitors. Once the voltage source is removed from the material, it either returns to its original non-polarized state, or stays polarized if the molecular bonds in the material are weak. The difference between the terms dielectric and insulator is not very well defined. All dielectric materials are insulators, but a good dielectric is one which is easily polarized. The amount of polarization which occurs when a certain voltage is applied to an object influences the amount of electrical energy that is stored in the electric field. This is described by the dielectric constant of the material. The dielectric constant is not the only property of dielectric materials. Other properties such as dielectric strength and dielectric loss are equally important in the choice of materials for a capacitor in a given application. Dielectric constant The dielectric constant of a material, also called the permittivity of a material, represents the ability of a material to concentrate electrostatic lines of flux. In more practical terms, it represents the ability of a material to store electrical energy in the presence of an electric field. All materials, including vacuum, store energy when placed in an electric field. The permittivity of vacuum is defined as the physical constant ε0, [… read more]