Do electrolytic capacitors have a minimum voltage below which they won't operate? I'm pretty sure they don't, but anything below 7V and 1A will not power the circuit below when the capacitor in added.
Electronic – Does an electrolytic capacitor have a minimum voltage
Electronic – Can you make a non-polar electrolytic capacitor out of two regular electrolytic capacitors
Yes "polarised" aluminum "wet electrolytic" capacitors can legitimately be connected "back-to-back" (ie in series with opposing polarities) to form a non-polar capacitor.
C1 + C2 are always equal in capacitance and voltage rating
Ceffective = = C1/2 = C2/2
Veffective = vrating of C1 & C2.
See "Mechanism" at end for how this (probably) works.
It is universally assumed that the two capacitors have identical capacitance when this is done.
The resulting capacitor with half the capacitance of each individual capacitor.
eg if two x 10 uF capacitors are placed in series the resulting capacitance will be 5 uF.
I conclude that the resulting capacitor will have the same voltage rating as the individual capacitors. (I may be wrong).
I have seen this method used on many occasions over many years and, more importanttly have seen the method described in application notes from a number of capacitor manufacturers. See at end for one such reference.
Understanding how the individual capacitors become correctly charged requires either faith in the capacitor manufacturers statements ("act as if they had been bypassed by diodes" or additional complexity BUT understanding how the arrangement works once initiated is easier.
Imagine two back-to-back caps with Cl fully charged and Cr fully discharged.
If a current is now passed though the series arrangement such that Cl then discharges to zero charge then the reversed polarity of Cr will cause it to be charged to full voltage. Attempts to apply additional current and to further discharge Cl so it assumes incorrect polarity would lead to Cr being charge above its rated voltage. ie it could be attempted BUT would be outside spec for both devices.
Given the above, the specific questions can be answered:
What are some reasons to connect capacitors in series?
Can create a bipolar cap from 2 x polar caps.
OR can double rated voltage as long as care is taken to balance voltage distribution. Paralleld resistors are sometimes used to help achieve balance.
"turns out that what might LOOK like two ordinary electrolytics are not, in fact, two ordinary electrolytics."
This can be done with oridinary electrolytics.
"No, do not do this. It will act as a capacitor also, but once you pass a few volts it will blow out the insulator."
Works OK if ratings are not exceeded.
'Kind of like "you can't make a BJT from two diodes"'
Reason for comparison is noted but is not a valid one. Each half capacitor is still subject to same rules and demands as when standing alone.
"it is a process that a tinkerer cannot do"
Tinkerer can - entirely legitimate.
So is a non-polar (NP) electrolytic cap electrically identical to two electrolytic caps in reverse series, or not?
It coild be but the manufacturers usually make a manufacturing change so that there are two Anode foils BUT the result is the same.
Does it not survive the same voltages?
Voltage rating is that of a single cap.
What happens to the reverse-biased cap when a large voltage is placed across the combination?
Under normal operation there is NO reverse biased cap. Each cap handles a full cycle of AC whole effectively seeing half a cycle. See my explanation above.
Are there practical limitations other than physical size?
No obvious limitation that i can think of.
Does it matter which polarity is on the outside?
No. Draw a picture of what each cap sees in isolation without reference to what is "outside it. Now change their order in the circuit. What they see is identical.
I don't see what the difference is, but a lot of people seem to think there is one.
You are correct. Functionally from a "black box" point of view they are the same.
In this document Application Guide, Aluminum Electrolytic Capacitors bY Cornell Dubilier, a competent and respected capacitor manufacturer it says (on age 2.183 & 2.184)
If two, same-value, aluminum electrolytic capacitors are connected in series, back-to-back with the positive terminals or the negative terminals connected, the resulting single capacitor is a non-polar capacitor with half the capacitance.
The two capacitors rectify the applied voltage and act as if they had been bypassed by diodes.
When voltage is applied, the correct-polarity capacitor gets the full voltage.
In non-polar aluminum electrolytic capacitors and motor-start aluminum electrolytic capacitors a second anode foil substitutes for the cathode foil to achieve a non-polar capacitor in a single case.
Of relevance to understanding the overall action is this comment from page 2.183.
While it may appear that the capacitance is between the two foils, actually the capacitance is between the anode foil and the electrolyte.
The positive plate is the anode foil;
the dielectric is the insulating aluminum oxide on the anode foil;
the true negative plate is the conductive, liquid electrolyte, and the cathode foil merely connects to the electrolyte.
This construction delivers colossal capacitance because etching the foils can increase surface area more than 100 times and the aluminum-oxide dielectric is less than a micrometer thick. Thus the resulting capacitor has very large plate area and the plates are awfully close together.
I intuitively feel as Olin does that it should be necessary to provide a means of maintaining correct polarity. In practice it seems that the capacitors do a good job of accommodating the startup "boundary condition". Cornell Dubiliers "acts like a diode" needs better understanding.
I think the following describes how the system works.
As I described above, once one capacitor is fully charged at one extreme of the AC waveform and the other fully discharged then the system will operate correctly, with charge being passed into the outside "plate" of one cap, across from inside plate of that cap to the other cap and "out the other end". ie a body of charge transfers to and from between the two capacitors and allows net charge flow to and from through the dual cap. No problem so far.
A correctly biased capacitor has very low leakage.
A reverse biased capacitor has higher leakage and possibly much higher.
At startup one cap is reverse biased on each half cycle and leakage current flows.
The charge flow is such as to drive the capacitors towards the properly balanced condition.
This is the "diode action" referred to - not formal rectification per say but leakage under incorrect operating bias.
After a number of cycles balance will be achieved. The "leakier" the cap is in the reverse direction the quicker balance will be achieved.
Any imperfections or inequalities will be compensated for by this self adjusting mechanism. Very neat.
In an aluminum electrolytic capacitor, the positive terminal is connected to the foil that has the oxide layer on it, and the negative terminal is connected to the one without the oxide layer. This puts the negative terminal in direct contact with the electrolyte, and the case (assuming it has no insulating liner) is also in contact with the electrolyte.
Therefore, if you measure the resistance between the case and either lead, the negative lead will have relatively lower resistance to the case in both directions, while the positive lead will show essentially infinite resistance in at least one direction.
If the case is insulated, you can try applying a small bias voltage (3-5V) to the capacitor in each direction (through a current-limiting resistor of 100K or so) and see which direction allows the least current; this will be the correct polarity of the capacitor. This works because an electrolytic capacitor has a weak diode action as well. For further details, see the Wikipedia article.
- Electronic – MAX682 with electrolytic capacitors
- Electronic – Highest energy density electrolytic capacitors
- Minimum capacitor voltage
- Electronic – Non-Polarized Electrolytic Capacitor Replacement
- Electronic – Maximal operational pressure of tantalum and electrolytic capacitors
- Electronic – High short circuit failure rate of aluminum electrolytic capacitors during the production processes
- Electronic – Why could the electrolytic capacitor have current but not the parallel plate capacitor
For most practical purposes electrolytic capacitors can be considered to NOT have a minimum voltage rating.
The "problem" in your circuit that causes it to not work at less than 7V is that you are using a 12V relay as seen here. This is designed to operate to specification at 12V applied to coil but will pull in at somewhat less than 12V. How much less depends on various factors including the rate of rise of the applied voltage. Without knowing what is "out there" on your +12VDC supply it's not possible to give a full picture (and even then one would need to look at relay specs) but as you reduce Vin the capacitor charges in a "more leisurely" manner and at 7V the relay may still operate without the capacitor, even while being well below specified voltage, but with the capacitor the slow rise time defeats it.
It's possible that adding a large capacitor from relay center terminal to ground MAY allow lower voltage operation by making a larger source of surge current available.
Here is the relay datasheet all the way from Ningbo (directly south of Shanghai across the very wide river delta).
Guaranteed pull in voltage is >= 9.6V so 7V is "rather low".
Dropout MAY be as low as 0.6V!