Saturday, 19 March 2011

Q factor

An ideal inductor will be lossless irrespective of the amount of current through the winding. However, typically inductors have winding resistance from the metal wire forming the coils. Since the winding resistance appears as a resistance in series with the inductor, it is often called the series resistance. The inductor's series resistance converts electric current through the coils into heat, thus causing a loss of inductive quality. The quality factor (or Q) of an inductor is the ratio of its inductive reactance to its resistance at a given frequency, and is a measure of its efficiency. The higher the Q factor of the inductor, the closer it approaches the behavior of an ideal, lossless, inductor.

The Q factor of an inductor can be found through the following formula, where R is its internal electrical resistance and ωL is capacitive or inductive reactance at resonance:

    Q = \frac{\omega{}L}{R}

By using a ferromagnetic core, the inductance is greatly increased for the same amount of copper, multiplying up the Q. Cores however also introduce losses that increase with frequency. A grade of core material is chosen for best results for the frequency band. At VHF or higher frequencies an air core is likely to be used.

Inductors wound around a ferromagnetic core may saturate at high currents, causing a dramatic decrease in inductance (and Q). This phenomenon can be avoided by using a (physically larger) air core inductor. A well designed air core inductor may have a Q of several hundred.

An almost ideal inductor (Q approaching infinity) can be created by immersing a coil made from a superconducting alloy in liquid helium or liquid nitrogen. This supercools the wire, causing its winding resistance to disappear. Because a superconducting inductor is virtually lossless, it can store a large amount of electrical energy within the surrounding magnetic field (see superconducting magnetic energy storage). Bear in mind that for inductors with cores, core losses still exist.

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