ceramic capacitors why voltage and capacitance ratings arent full picture
Introduction to Ceramic Capacitors
Ceramic capacitors are essential components in modern electronic circuits, offering a wide range of capacitance values and voltage ratings in compact packages. They are known for their low cost, high stability, and excellent highfrequency performance. However, when selecting a ceramic capacitor for a specific application, relying solely on the voltage and capacitance ratings can lead to suboptimal performance or even failure. In this article, we will explore the various factors that influence the performance of ceramic capacitors beyond their nominal ratings.
Understanding the Basics of Ceramic Capacitors
Construction and Materials
Ceramic capacitors are constructed using alternating layers of ceramic dielectric material and metal electrodes. The dielectric material is typically a highpermittivity ceramic, such as barium titanate (BaTiO3) or calcium zirconate (CaZrO3). The electrodes are usually made of silver or nickel, and they are connected to the capacitor’s terminals.
Dielectric Types and Characteristics
Ceramic capacitors can be classified into two main categories based on their dielectric characteristics:

Class 1 (C0G/NP0): These capacitors have a low dielectric constant (K < 200) and exhibit excellent stability over a wide temperature range. They offer low capacitance values (typically up to 10 nF) and are suitable for highfrequency and precision applications.

Class 2 (X7R, X5R, Y5V, etc.): These capacitors have a high dielectric constant (K > 200) and offer higher capacitance values than Class 1 capacitors. However, they exhibit greater variation in capacitance with temperature, voltage, and frequency. Class 2 capacitors are commonly used in generalpurpose applications where stability is less critical.
Factors Affecting Ceramic Capacitor Performance
Voltage Coefficient of Capacitance (VCC)
The voltage coefficient of capacitance (VCC) describes the change in capacitance with applied voltage. In ceramic capacitors, especially Class 2 types, the capacitance can decrease significantly as the applied voltage increases. This effect is more pronounced in highK dielectrics and can lead to a capacitance reduction of up to 80% at the rated voltage. When selecting a ceramic capacitor, it is essential to consider the VCC and ensure that the capacitance remains within acceptable limits under the expected operating conditions.
Temperature Coefficient of Capacitance (TCC)
The temperature coefficient of capacitance (TCC) represents the change in capacitance with temperature. Class 1 capacitors have a stable TCC, typically within ±30 ppm/°C, making them suitable for applications requiring high stability over a wide temperature range. In contrast, Class 2 capacitors exhibit a larger TCC, ranging from ±15% to ±80% over the operating temperature range. When designing circuits with ceramic capacitors, it is crucial to consider the expected temperature variations and choose a dielectric type that meets the stability requirements.
Aging and Piezoelectric Effects
Ceramic capacitors, particularly those with highK dielectrics, are subject to aging and piezoelectric effects. Aging refers to the gradual decrease in capacitance over time due to the relaxation of the dielectric material. This effect is more pronounced in freshly manufactured capacitors and can cause a capacitance reduction of up to 10% over the first few years of operation. Piezoelectric effects occur when mechanical stress is applied to the capacitor, causing a change in capacitance. This can be problematic in applications where the capacitor is subjected to vibrations or mechanical shocks.
Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) and Equivalent Series Inductance (ESL)
Equivalent series resistance (ESR) and equivalent series inductance (ESL) are parasitic elements that affect the highfrequency performance of ceramic capacitors. ESR represents the resistance of the capacitor’s dielectric and electrodes, while ESL represents the inductance of the capacitor’s leads and internal connections. These parasitic elements can cause the capacitor to deviate from its ideal behavior at high frequencies, leading to increased power dissipation and reduced effectiveness in bypassing and filtering applications.
Selecting the Right Ceramic Capacitor
Understanding the Application Requirements
To choose the appropriate ceramic capacitor for a given application, it is essential to understand the circuit’s requirements in terms of capacitance, voltage, temperature, and frequency. Consider the following factors:

Capacitance: Determine the required capacitance value based on the circuit’s design and performance needs.

Voltage: Ensure that the capacitor’s rated voltage is sufficient to handle the maximum expected voltage in the circuit, taking into account any voltage transients or spikes.

Temperature: Consider the expected temperature range of the application and choose a dielectric type that offers the required stability over that range.

Frequency: Evaluate the frequency range of the application and select a capacitor with suitable ESR and ESL characteristics to minimize losses and maintain effective bypassing or filtering performance.
Interpreting Datasheets and Tolerance Codes
Ceramic capacitor datasheets provide essential information for proper component selection. Pay close attention to the following parameters:

Capacitance tolerance: Indicates the allowable variation in capacitance from the nominal value. Common tolerances include ±5%, ±10%, and ±20%.

Temperature characteristic: Specifies the capacitance change over the operating temperature range. Examples include C0G/NP0 (±30 ppm/°C), X7R (±15%), and Y5V (+22%/82%).

Voltage rating: Represents the maximum continuous voltage that the capacitor can withstand without damage or degradation.

Dissipation factor (DF): Measures the capacitor’s losses at a specific frequency, typically 1 kHz or 1 MHz. Lower DF values indicate higher quality and lower ESR.
Derating and Redundancy
To ensure reliable operation and longevity, it is recommended to derate ceramic capacitors in terms of voltage and temperature. Derating involves selecting a capacitor with a higher voltage rating than the maximum expected voltage in the circuit and operating the capacitor below its maximum temperature rating. A typical voltage derating factor is 50%, meaning that a capacitor with a 100 V rating would be used in a circuit with a maximum expected voltage of 50 V.
In critical applications, implementing redundancy by using multiple capacitors in parallel can improve reliability and mitigate the impact of individual component failures. This approach also helps to reduce the effective ESR and ESL, enhancing highfrequency performance.
Table: Comparison of Common Ceramic Capacitor Dielectric Types
Dielectric Type  Capacitance Range  Dielectric Constant (K)  Temperature Coefficient (TCC)  Voltage Coefficient (VCC)  Aging  Applications 

C0G/NP0  <10 nF  <200  ±30 ppm/°C  Negligible  Negligible  Highfrequency, precision circuits 
X7R  100 pF – 10 µF  2000 – 4000  ±15%  Moderate  Moderate  Generalpurpose, bypassing, filtering 
X5R  100 pF – 10 µF  2000 – 4000  ±15%  Moderate  Moderate  Generalpurpose, bypassing, filtering 
Y5V  1 nF – 100 µF  8000 – 14000  +22%/82%  High  High  Coupling, decoupling (noncritical) 
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Q: What is the difference between Class 1 and Class 2 ceramic capacitors?
A: Class 1 ceramic capacitors, such as C0G/NP0, have a low dielectric constant and exhibit excellent stability over temperature and voltage. They offer low capacitance values and are suitable for highfrequency and precision applications. Class 2 capacitors, such as X7R and Y5V, have a high dielectric constant and offer higher capacitance values but exhibit greater variation in capacitance with temperature, voltage, and frequency. They are commonly used in generalpurpose applications where stability is less critical. 
Q: Why does the capacitance of ceramic capacitors decrease with applied voltage?
A: The decrease in capacitance with applied voltage, known as the voltage coefficient of capacitance (VCC), is more pronounced in highK dielectric materials used in Class 2 ceramic capacitors. This effect occurs due to the nonlinear polarization of the dielectric material under an electric field. As the applied voltage increases, the dielectric constant decreases, resulting in a reduction in capacitance. 
Q: How does temperature affect the performance of ceramic capacitors?
A: The temperature coefficient of capacitance (TCC) represents the change in capacitance with temperature. Class 1 capacitors have a stable TCC, typically within ±30 ppm/°C, making them suitable for applications requiring high stability over a wide temperature range. Class 2 capacitors exhibit a larger TCC, ranging from ±15% to ±80% over the operating temperature range, which can affect circuit performance if not properly accounted for. 
Q: What are the effects of aging on ceramic capacitors?
A: Aging refers to the gradual decrease in capacitance over time due to the relaxation of the dielectric material. This effect is more pronounced in highK dielectric capacitors and can cause a capacitance reduction of up to 10% over the first few years of operation. Aging is an important factor to consider when designing circuits that require stable capacitance values over long periods. 
Q: How can I ensure reliable operation of ceramic capacitors in my design?
A: To ensure reliable operation, consider the following practices:  Derate the capacitor’s voltage rating by selecting a capacitor with a higher voltage rating than the maximum expected voltage in the circuit.
 Operate the capacitor below its maximum temperature rating to minimize the impact of temperature variations on capacitance.
 Use multiple capacitors in parallel to improve reliability, reduce effective ESR and ESL, and enhance highfrequency performance.
 Pay attention to the capacitor’s datasheet specifications, such as capacitance tolerance, temperature characteristic, and dissipation factor, to select the most suitable component for your application.
Conclusion
Ceramic capacitors are essential components in modern electronic circuits, offering a wide range of capacitance values and voltage ratings. However, relying solely on these nominal ratings can lead to suboptimal performance or even failure. By understanding the factors that influence ceramic capacitor performance, such as voltage and temperature coefficients, aging, and piezoelectric effects, designers can make informed decisions when selecting components for their applications.
Proper ceramic capacitor selection involves understanding the circuit’s requirements, interpreting datasheets, and applying derating and redundancy practices. By considering these factors and choosing the appropriate dielectric type, designers can ensure reliable and efficient operation of their electronic circuits.
As technology continues to advance, ceramic capacitors will remain a crucial component in electronic design. By staying informed about the latest developments and best practices in ceramic capacitor selection and application, engineers can create robust and highperformance electronic systems that meet the everincreasing demands of modern technology.