In electronics, capacitive coupling is the transfer of energy within an electrical network by means of the capacitance between circuit nodes. This coupling can have an intentional or accidental effect. Capacitive coupling is typically achieved by placing a capacitor in series with the signal to be coupled.
Use in analog circuits
In analog circuits, a coupling capacitor is used to connect two circuits such that only the AC signal from the first circuit can pass through to the next while DC is blocked. This technique helps to isolate the DC bias settings of the two coupled circuits. Capacitive coupling is also known as AC coupling and the capacitor used for the purpose is known as a coupling or DC blocking capacitor. The term decoupling capacitor is also used, emphasizing the DC isolation. Capacitive coupling has the disadvantage of degrading the low frequency performance of a system containing capacitively coupled units. Each coupling capacitor along with the input electrical impedance of the next stage forms a high-pass filter and each successive filter results in a cumulative filter with a -3dB frequency that may be higher than each individual filter. So for adequate low frequency response the capacitors used must have high capacitance ratings. They should be high enough that the reactance of each is at most a tenth of the input impedance of each stage, at the lowest frequency of interest. This disadvantage of capacitively coupling DC biased, transistor amplifier circuits is largely minimized in directly coupled designs.
Use in digital circuits
AC coupling is also widely used in digital circuits to transmit digital signal with a zero DC component, known as DC-balanced signals. DC-balanced waveforms are useful in communications systems, since they can be used over AC-coupled electrical connections to avoid voltage imbalance problems and charge accumulation between connected systems or components.
A gimmick loop is a simple type of capacitive coupler: two closely spaced strands of wire. It provides capacitive coupling of a few picofarads between two nodes. Sometimes the wires are twisted together for physical stability.
Parasitic capacitive coupling
Capacitive coupling is often unintended, such as the capacitance between two wires or PCB traces that are next to each other. Often one signal can capacitively couple with another and cause what appears to be noise. To reduce coupling, wires or traces are often separated as much as possible, or ground lines or ground planes are run in between signals that might affect each other. Breadboards are particularly prone to these issues due to the long pieces of metal that line every row creating a several-picofarad capacitor between lines. To prototype high-frequency (10s of MHz) or high-gain analog circuits, often the circuits are built over a ground plane so that the signals couple to ground more than to each other. If a high-gain amplifier's output capacitively couples to its input it often becomes an electronic oscillator.
One rule of thumb says that drivers should be able to drive 25 pF of capacitance which allows for PCB traces up to 0.30 meters.
- Joffe, Elya (2010). Grounds for Grounding:A Circuit to System Handbook. Wiley-IEEE. p. 277. ISBN 0-471-66008-6.
- Bernard Grob and Milton Sol Kiver (1960). Applications of Electronics. McGraw–Hill. pp. 300–01.
- Forrest M. Mims (2000). The Forrest Mims Circuit Scrapbook. Newnes. pp. 95–96. ISBN 1-878707-48-5.
- Media Independent Interface#Signal levels
- This article incorporates public domain material from the General Services Administration document "Federal Standard 1037C" (in support of MIL-STD-188).