Double-Layer Capacitors





Introduction: Double-Layer Capacitors

About: I am work in a high voltage laboratory, the largest laboratory owned by a university. I am in love with electricity. I have been fortunate enough to work with a variety of green technology including fuel cel...

 I will be talking a bit about double-layer capacitors and why they are useful. Double-layer capacitors are sometimes called ultracapacitors or super capacitors. I will be calling them super capacitors. What makes a super capacitor super ?  Capacitors have two conductors separated  by an insulator. Super capacitors also have two conductors which are coated with active carbon instead of having an insulator separating them they are immersed in an electrolytic solution. 

  Super capacitors can be charged and discharged thousands of times with out any affect on the capacitor itself. Batteries have a limited number of cycles before they start degrading. Super capacitors store charges electrostatically and batteries use a chemical reaction . Super caps have some advantages and some disadvantages, advantages include high cycle life, low resistance provides high load currents, they are not greedy they only draws what energy they need to charge with no  worries of overcharge, and charges in seconds . The disadvantages include only holds a fraction of energy as a battery, higher self discharge than most batteries, and low cell voltage you have to connect multiple caps in series , which also decreases capacitance, and each cell has to be balanced.

 So what can I do with these things!? you might be asking. They are a green alternative to batteries in certain applications. I worked on a project for a smart power manager. The solar panel input had a super cap bank tied to the output, when the solar panel output would drop due to clouds or other variables the voltage on that output remained constant for a period of time until the solar panel started outputting it's maximum again. At home I play around with super capacitors and leds, solar charging and arduino boards, and fans. 

 I believe that super capacitors are the future of green energy storage. I hope you enjoyed my first Instructable and learned something along the way.


As I mentioned before when you connect two or more super caps is series you will need to add balancing to each cap. This is done because you will be charging the capacitors at a voltage that is higher than each cell is rated therefore the one or more of the caps may try to take on more voltage than they can handle, this usually happens when the capacitors are weak.

  There are two way to balance the simplest is passive. Passive balancing is pretty simple, you place a resistor in parallel with each capacitor , I have always been taught to size the resistor value 10x the leakage current of the capacitor for slower balancing or 100x the leakage current for faster balancing.

 The seconed method is active balancing. Active balancing uses semiconductors to balance each cell. Active is the way you want to go when efficiency is important. I hope that shines a little light on the subject of balancing super capacitors.



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    Ok I've read all comments but I didn't find any answers for mine so I'll simplify them here:

    1-I have 450v 220uF capacitor, I fully charge it using disposable camera circuit, it has a good spark sound, now if I got a 450v 1F capacitor and charge it, what will be different? Time charging, time discharging, spark loudness...?

    2-if I fully charge a 450v capacitor it will be 450v, the same for 330v and etc...., so what does the capacitance in farad on a capacitor mean?????

    Please explain non-briefly :p

    Thank you.

    1 reply

    farads describe the amount of energy the capacitor contains

    the 450v 220uf capacitor contains 22 joules discharged in ,05 sec will release about 445 watts about 1 amp across a dead short

    your theoretical 450 v capacitor a@ 1 farad is charges to 101250 joules

    101250 joules discharged in ,05 sec will release 2,025,000 watts about the same as a medium sized power plant

    2025000 divided by voltage equals current 4500 amps across a dead short

    excuse me i do not want to be anywhere near that

    Ok let me take a stab at your question/comment. Super caps have a lower resistance than batteries making them more efficient as far as discharging. Without a boost circuit naturally the capacitor will not exceed it's rated voltage, much like a battery.

    As far as overcharging a super capacitor goes, it will stop accepting current when it reaches it's storage capacity. If you apply voltage well over it's rated voltage then you would stand a chance of causing a breakdown condition. Much like applying 10V to a 5V regulator.

    the purpose of this instructable was to introduce the basics of super capacitors, and how they can eventually, in my opinion, evolve and take the place of batteries all together in some applications. I am by far an expert on the topic just sharing what I have learned from my adventures with them.

    I want to make something clear/ ask a question. It was my understanding that super-capacitors (as well as all other rechargeable cells, like batteries) only conduct up to their rated voltage. You imply this is an advantage over normal batteries, but I thought normal batteries work the same way? Also you can still over voltage and hense over charge one (just like a normal battery) correct?

    I am just wandering why it is marked as "Featured"? There is no new information, no instructable on how to make super caps at home. Did I missed something?

    2 replies

    tema137 if you are interested in circuits with super caps then take a look at this little instructable . It is just a simple proof of concept . I am working on butting together a larger bank and will post an instructable on that project.

    putting not butting

    I'm intrigued by the solar panel power manager that you mention. Any chance that you might be able to scrape together an instructable for that?

    1 reply

    I am currently working on that, I want to get a higher watt panel and larger super caps and see if I can replace a generator at a campsite.

    Interesting introduction to super caps. Could you please explain more "...and each cell has to be balanced" issue?

    I most certainly did learn something. :D Ty for this well written, and informative Instructo! :D

    1 reply

    Thank you for the kind words.