Epcos first to ship niobium capacitors

28 February 2001 News

Epcos has announced it will start shipping niobium capacitors from volume production in late 2001 as a supplement to tantalum capacitors: it will be the first company in the world to manufacture this product.

Two factors were decisive for the development of this type of capacitor, says Epcos, for which patents are pending: first, niobium oxide permits three times higher dielectric constants, so that capacitors can either be built significantly smaller or else three times the capacitance can be implemented in the same chip package. This makes 1500 µF at 10 V feasible in case size E it says.

The other reason lies in the continuing scarcity and dramatic rise in the price of tantalum powder, which is expected to top 200% in January 2001 alone. As around half the cost of the tantalum chips is determined by this rare raw material, a price increase is unavoidable. In contrast, niobium is currently estimated to be some thirty times more common than its close relative tantalum, according to the company, so that capacitors made of this can offer significant cost benefits.

Niobium technology represents an economical alternative for a number of applications in the sector of high-capacitance low-voltage capacitors
Niobium technology represents an economical alternative for a number of applications in the sector of high-capacitance low-voltage capacitors

Niobium technology will gain a particularly strong foothold sectors such as mobile communications, telecom, data and consumer electronics as an economical alternative to tantalum - and in some cases also to low-voltage aluminium electrolytic capacitors. Current estimates suggest that around 10% of tantalum chips can be replaced by niobium. But Dr Werner Lohwasser, Head of Development of Tantalum Electrolytic Capacitors at Epcos, is certain that a separate market will develop for this product in view of its attractions.

Because niobium capacitors are still specified only to a temperature of 105°C, Epcos says that for now the important automotive market remains closed to them. However Lohwasser is confident: "It is quite likely that we will clear the important hurdle of 125°C in the next development stage of niobium technology so that we will be able to tap the enormous application potential of automotive electronics."


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