# Question about polarized capacitors

by Bararontok
Tags: capacitors, polarized
 P: 298 There are two types of capacitor, non-polarized and polarized. The non-polarized capacitor holds equal amounts of charge in each of its two plates so that a difference in charge is only achieved when electrical current from a power supply transfers electrons from one plate to another to cause a potential difference, storing electrical energy in the process. When the power supply is cut off and a load is connected to the non-polarized capacitor, the electrons flow from the charged plate, to the load, and back to the other plate until both plates hold an equal amount of charge and the capacitor once again becomes neutral. But in the case of polarized capacitors where one plate has excess amounts of charge compared to the other plate, will the plate with excess amounts of charge not spontaneously transfer electrons to the other plate if connected to a load or shorted, even without the aid of a power supply because there is already an imbalance of electric charge? And will this transfer of electrons not balance out the charges on the two plates and cause the polarized capacitor to become non-polarized?
 Sci Advisor P: 3,991 Polarized just means the capacitor has to be connected a certain way. It does not already carry a charge when you buy it from the store. If you charge it, it has a charge which you may then discharge if you wish.
 P: 298 So why does the polarized capacitor have to have a positive and negative terminal designation if the capacitor uses two plates that both have the same capacity to store electric charge? Is there something in the structure of this type of capacitor that will destroy it if the polarity of the supply current is reversed?
PF Gold
P: 1,967

## Question about polarized capacitors

 Quote by Bararontok So why does the polarized capacitor have to have a positive and negative terminal designation if the capacitor uses two plates that both have the same capacity to store electric charge? Is there something in the structure of this type of capacitor that will destroy it if the polarity of the supply current is reversed?
I think your "polarised capacitors" are what I know as "electrolytic capacitors".These capacitors have a very thin dielectric film which is maintained by connecting the power supply the right way round.If the power supply is connected the wrong way round the the dielectric breaks down and the capacitor blows.
 P: 298 Why does the dielectric film breakdown when the current travels in the wrong direction?
 PF Gold P: 1,967 The film is built up by electrolysis and by use of a suitable electrolyte and a d.c. current.If the power supply is connected the wrong way round the electro/chemical reaction reverses and the film breaks down.
 P: 298 So, does the supply current used to build up charge go into the metal plate or into the electrolyte plate?
 PF Gold P: 1,967 There is an electrolyte between metal plates and the thin film makes the dielectric.The plate with the film deposited on it can be considered as the anode and the plate plus the unreacted electrolyte can be considered as the cathode.The charge is numerically equal on both electrodes one side being positive and the other side negative.Try googling for constructional and other details
 P: 298 So that means that sending the supply current into the plate with the film will reverse the electrochemical reaction, causing the film insulation to breakdown and short the capacitor.
PF Gold
P: 1,967
 Quote by Bararontok So that means that sending the supply current into the plate with the film will reverse the electrochemical reaction, causing the film insulation to breakdown and short the capacitor.
The current flows through both plates and it is a current which is responsible for building the film in the first place.Any supply current flowing in the right direction helps to maintain the film but a current flowing in the opposite direction will cause the film to break down.
 P: 298 Exactly, the current must flow from the anode to the cathode and not in the reverse direction. Otherwise the film will break down.
 PF Gold P: 1,967 That's right.Take care when you use them.
 P: 298 So when the electrolytic capacitor is manufactured, there is a designated side with the cathode plate and beside this plate is the microscopic metal oxide layer, followed by the absorbent spacer material soaked in electrolytes, then the dielectric insulator and lastly the anode plate.
 PF Gold P: 1,967 The dielectric is the oxide layer.I'm assuming that the easiest manufacturing process would be to form the oxide layer by means of a current after everything else has been constructed.The direction of the current chosen determines what side would be the anode.
 P: 298 There is a diagram specifically stating that there are two dielectric layers on each side of the electrolyte, one is an aluminum oxide compound placed beside the anode and the other is an air oxide compound placed beside the cathode. At the very center of these layers of material is the absorbent material soaked in electrolyte. The diagram is shown below, courtesy of http://rpmedia.ask.com/ts?u=/wikiped...au-english.png
 PF Gold P: 1,967 There are two layers but only one of these,the aluminium oxide,is labelled as the dielectric.
HW Helper
Thanks
PF Gold
P: 26,122
 Quote by Dadface If the power supply is connected the wrong way round the the dielectric breaks down and the capacitor blows.
Does that mean that a polarised capacitor can't take an AC current?

Is this, from the PF Library, wrong …
Polarised capacitor (or polar capacitor):

This has one metal and one electrolyte plate (instead of two metal plates), and its dielectric is the oxide of the metal.

It has nothing to do with polarisation current.

It simply means that it behaves as a capacitor in one direction only (with the metal plate at the positive potential), and as a conductor in the other direction.

So it only works one way round in a DC circuit, and behaves as a rectifier in an AC circuit.
PF Gold
P: 1,967
 Quote by tiny-tim Does that mean that a polarised capacitor can't take an AC current? If too large a reverse current flows for too long a time the chemical reaction that built the oxide dielectric reverse and the film breaks down.This results in a short circuit,overheating and the problems associated with that.I'm guessing,therefore, that the answer depends on the voltage and the frequency of the supply and the characteristics of the capacitor such as the maximum reverse voltage it can withstand and the time limitations of this.I think that higher voltage AC supplies can be used if the circuitry is such that there is a d.c. component that maintains the integrity of the film. Is this, from the PF Library, wrong …Polarised capacitor (or polar capacitor): This has one metal and one electrolyte plate (instead of two metal plates), and its dielectric is the oxide of the metal. I would add that the second plate consists of the electrolyte and the metal plate that makes contact with it It has nothing to do with polarisation current. It simply means that it behaves as a capacitor in one direction only (with the metal plate at the positive potential), and as a conductor in the other direction. So it only works one way round in a DC circuit, and behaves as a rectifier in an AC circuit.
I agree it works one way only in a dc circuit but I am not so sure about any rectifying action.

I should add that my comments in this thread have been with reference to electrolytic capacitors and before reading the opening posts I did not know that these could also be referred to as polar capacitors.After doing some searching I found that there are also non polar electrolytics which can stand the rated current in both directions.

Sorry tiny-tim.I've added some of my comments in your quotes.I dont know how to fix it and have to go out now.

 Related Discussions Electrical Engineering 3 Electrical Engineering 6 General Physics 4 Introductory Physics Homework 0