Ceramic capacitors are well-suited to manage ripple current because they can filter large currents generated by switched-mode power supplies. It is common to use ceramic capacitors of different sizes and values in parallel to achieve the optimum result. In such a case, each capacitor should meet its allowable ripple-current rating.

In this post, I’ll use a buck converter as an example to demonstrate how to select ceramic capacitors to meet ripple-current requirements. (Note that bulk capacitors such as aluminum electrolytic or tantalum capacitors have high equivalent-series-resistance (ESR). When put in parallel to ceramic capacitors, these bulk capacitors are not designed to take a large ripple current. Thus, I won’t discuss them here.)

Figure 1 shows a basic circuit of a buck converter. The converter input current, i_{IN_D}, consists of a large ripple current, Δi_{IN_D}.

**Figure 1: The basic circuit of a buck converter**

The buck converter parameters are:

- Input voltage (V
_{IN}) = 12V. - Allowable input ripple voltage (ΔV
_{IN}) < 0.36V. - Output voltage (V
_{O}) = 1.2V. - Output current (I
_{O}) = 12A. - Inductor peak-to-peak ripple current (ΔIpp) = 3.625A.
- Switching frequency (F
_{SW}) = 600KHz. - Temperature-rise limit of the ceramic capacitors < 10°C.

Figure 2 shows the input ripple-current waveform.

**Figure 2: Input ripple-current waveform**

To meet the ripple-voltage requirement, the effective capacitance of the ceramic capacitor should be greater than that calculated with Equation 1:

With the converter parameters and requirements, C_{ce_total} should be greater than 5µF.

The selected ceramic capacitors must also meet the ripple-current limitation. Equation 2 calculates the root-mean-square (RMS) value of the ripple current:

Given that I_{O }= 12A, ΔIpp = 3.625A and D = 10%, the RMS value of the input ripple is 3.615A_{RMS}.

Table 1 lists the characteristics of available ceramic capacitors with the proper voltage rating. These capacitors are of 10% tolerance.

**Table 1: Capacitor characteristics**

While one piece of Capacitor A provides sufficient effective capacitance to meet the ripple-voltage requirement, its ripple-current rating of 3.24A_{RMS} is slightly less than that generated by the converter. While adding another piece of Capacitor A meets the requirement, it occupies more space and costs more than other smaller capacitors. The question is which capacitor or capacitors should be added. To answer that question, I conducted an analysis on ripple-current distribution. Figure 3 is a simplified schematic of two capacitors in parallel with an AC current source.

**Figure 3: Schematic of ripple-current distribution**

According to Ohm’s law, current distribution should abide by Equation 3:

Ceramic capacitors have small ESR. Figure 4 shows two examples.

**Figure 4: Ceramic capacitor impedance |Z| and ESR R over frequency**

For frequencies lower than 1MHz, you can approximate the impedance of a ceramic capacitor, X_{C}, by X_{C }= 1/(jωC). Thus Equation 3 simplifies into Equation 4. According to Equation 4, ripple current is in proportion to the effective capacitance:

When multiple capacitors are in parallel, the capacitor with the lowest allowable ripple current over effective-capacitance ratio, I_{RMS}-over-C, will hit the ripple-current rating first. Assuming that C1 has lower I_{RMS}-over-C than C2, Equation 5 estimates the total allowable ripple current, I_{∑_RMS_Allow}:

When C1 hits its allowable ripple-current rating, the ripple current through C2 will not exceed its allowable ripple current, as Equation 6 shows:

In order to have I_{∑_RMS_Allow} ≥ I_{IN_AC_RMS, }the additional capacitance should be greater than that calculated by Equation 7:

Tol. is the capacitance tolerance of these ceramic capacitors. When tolerance is included in the calculation, the worst-case ripple current of the bottleneck capacitor would not exceed its rating.

I listed the I_{RMS}-to-C ratio as a parameter in Table 2.

**Table 2: Capacitor characteristics**

Capacitor A has high effective capacitance at 12_{VDC} bias. To meet the ripple-current requirement, you should add an additional capacitor or capacitors to meet ripple current requirement. Since Capacitor A has the lowest I_{RMS}-to-C ratio, the added effective capacitance, C_{additional}, should be greater than that calculated with Equation 8:

There are two options. The first option is to add one piece of Capacitor B. The second option is to add one piece of Capacitor C and two pieces of Capacitor D. Both options provide sufficient additional effective capacitance and occupy similar printed circuit board (PCB) areas. Since the latter option is more cost-effective, I chose the second option.

To verify my hypothesis, I conducted a PSPICE simulation; Figure 5 shows the circuit I used. I also used the nominal values of the capacitors for a typical case.

**Figure 5: Ripple-current distribution simulation circuit**

Figure 6 shows the simulation waveforms and the RMS values for the ripple currents of the capacitors, which are:

- I
_{CA_RMS_typ}= 3.13A_{RMS}. - I
_{CC_RMS_typ}= 0.353A_{RMS}. - I
_{CD_RMS_typ}= 0.081A_{RMS}. - V
_{IN}ripple voltage = 0.299V.

**Figure 6: Simulated ripple-current waveform of each ceramic capacitor**

I then used capacitor values that would render a worst case for the Capacitor A, the bottleneck capacitor.

The RMS values of the ripple currents of the capacitors are:

- I
_{CA_RMS_max}= 3.206A_{RMS}. - I
_{CC_RMS_min}= 0.306A_{RMS}. - I
_{CD_RMS_min}= 0.070A_{RMS}.

Each capacitor meets its allowable ripple-current rating.

Using ceramic capacitors of different sizes in parallel provides a compact and cost-effective way to filter large ripple current. But with different capacitances and ripple-current ratings, it is difficult to determine the total allowable ripple current. In this post, I proposed a parameter called allowable ripple current over effective-capacitance ratio, I_{RMS}/C. I_{RMS}/C helps you find the bottleneck capacitor for the allowable ripple current. Use the lowest I_{RMS}/C to estimate the total allowable ripple current and to select additional capacitors. Please be aware that PCB parasitics could greatly affect circuit performance. This method provides a good estimation; however, you must verify designs empirically.

**Additional resources**

- Explore more power-supply topics.
- Watch Power Tips videos to help with your design challenges