The LED consists of a chip of semiconducting material doped with impurities to create a p-n junction. As in other diodes, current flows easily from the p-side, or anode, to the n-side, or cathode, but not in the reverse direction. Charge-carriers—electrons and holes—flow into the junction from electrodes with different voltages. When an electron meets a hole, it falls into a lower energy level and releases energy in the form of a photon.
The wavelength of the light emitted, and thus its color, depends on the band gap energy of the materials forming the p-n junction. In silicon or germanium diodes, the electrons and holes usually recombine by a non-radiative transition, which produces no optical emission, because these are indirect band gap materials. The materials used for the LED have a direct band gap with energies corresponding to near-infrared, visible, or near-ultraviolet light.
LED development began with infrared and red devices made with gallium arsenide. Advances in materials science have enabled making devices with ever-shorter wavelengths, emitting light in a variety of colors.
LEDs are usually built on an n-type substrate, with an electrode attached to the p-type layer deposited on its surface. P-type substrates, while less common, occur as well. Many commercial LEDs, especially GaN/InGaN, also use sapphire substrate.
2. Refractive index
Bare uncoated semiconductors such as silicon exhibit a very high refractive index relative to open air, which prevents passage of photons arriving at sharp angles relative to the air-contacting surface of the semiconductor due to total internal reflection. This property affects both the light-emission efficiency of LEDs as well as the light-absorption efficiency of photovoltaic cells. The refractive index of silicon is set at 3.96 (at 590 nm), while air’s refractive index is set at 1.0002926.
In general, a flat-surface uncoated LED semiconductor chip emits light only perpendicular to the semiconductor’s surface, and a few degrees to the side, in a cone shape referred to as the light cone, cone of light, or the escape cone. The maximum angle of incidence is referred to as the critical angle. When the critical angle is exceeded, photons no longer escape the semiconductor but are, instead, reflected internally inside the semiconductor crystal as if it were a mirror.
Internal reflections can escape through other crystalline faces if the incidence angle is low enough and the crystal is sufficiently transparent to not re-absorb the photon emission. But for a simple square LED with 90-degree angled surfaces on all sides, the faces all act as equal angle mirrors. In this case, most of the light can not escape and is lost as waste heat in the crystal.
A convoluted chip surface with angled facets similar to a jewel or fresnel lens can increase light output by distributing light perpendicular to the chip surface and far to the sides of the photon emission point.
The ideal shape of a semiconductor with maximum light output would be a microsphere with the photon emission occurring at the exact center, with electrodes penetrating to the center to contact at the emission point. All light rays emanating from the center would be perpendicular to the entire surface of the sphere, resulting in no internal reflections. A hemispherical semiconductor would also work, with the flat back-surface serving as a mirror to back-scattered photons.
2.1 Transition coatings
After the doping of the wafer, it is usually cut apart into individual dies. Each die is commonly called a chip.
Many LED semiconductor chips are encapsulated or potted in clear or colored molded plastic shells. The plastic shell has three purposes:
1.Mounting the semiconductor chip in devices is easier to accomplish.
2.The tiny fragile electrical wiring is physically supported and protected from damage.
3.The plastic acts as a refractive intermediary between the relatively high-index semiconductor and low-index open air.
The third feature helps to boost the light emission from the semiconductor by acting as a diffusing lens, emitting light at a much higher angle of incidence from the light cone than the bare chip would alone.
3. Efficiency and operational parameters
Typical indicator LEDs are designed to operate with no more than 30–60 milliwatts (mW) of electrical power. Around 1999, Philips Lumileds introduced power LEDs capable of continuous use at one watt. These LEDs used much larger semiconductor die sizes to handle the large power inputs. Also, the semiconductor dies were mounted onto metal slugs to allow for heat removal from the LED die.
One of the key advantages of LED-based lighting sources is high luminous efficacy. White LEDs quickly matched and overtook the efficacy of standard incandescent lighting systems. In 2002, Lumileds made five-watt LEDs available with luminous efficacy of 18–22 lumens per watt (lm/W). For comparison, a conventional incandescent light bulb of 60–100 watts emits around 15 lm/W, and standard fluorescent lights emit up to 100 lm/W.
As of 2012, Philips had achieved the following efficacies for each color. The efficiency values show the physics – light power out per electrical power in. The lumen-per-watt efficacy value includes characteristics of the human eye and is derived using the luminosity function.
Color Wavelength range (nm) Typical efficiency coefficient Typical efficacy (lm/W)
Red 620 < λ < 645 0.39 72
Red-orange 610 < λ < 620 0.29 98
Green 520 < λ < 550 0.15 93
Cyan 490 < λ < 520 0.26 75
Blue 460 < λ < 490 0.35 37
In September 2003, a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by Cree that consumes 24 mW at 20 milliamperes (mA). This produced a commercially packaged white light giving 65 lm/W at 20 mA, becoming the brightest white LED commercially available at the time, and more than four times as efficient as standard incandescents. In 2006, they demonstrated a prototype with a record white LED luminous efficacy of 131 lm/W at 20 mA. Nichia Corporation has developed a white LED with luminous efficacy of 150 lm/W at a forward current of 20 mA. Cree’s XLamp XM-L LEDs, commercially available in 2011, produce 100 lm/W at their full power of 10 W, and up to 160 lm/W at around 2 W input power. In 2012, Cree announced a white LED giving 254 lm/W, and 303 lm/W in March 2014. Practical general lighting needs high-power LEDs, of one watt or more. Typical operating currents for such devices begin at 350 mA.
These efficiencies are for the light-emitting diode only, held at low temperature in a lab. Since LEDs installed in real fixtures operate at higher temperature and with driver losses, real-world efficiencies are much lower. United States Department of Energy (DOE) testing of commercial LED lamps designed to replace incandescent lamps or CFLs showed that average efficacy was still about 46 lm/W in 2009 (tested performance ranged from 17 lm/W to 79 lm/W).
3.1 Efficiency droop
Efficiency droop is the decrease in luminous efficiency of LEDs as the electric current increases above tens of milliamperes.
This effect was initially theorized to be related to elevated temperatures. Scientists proved the opposite is true: though the life of an LED would be shortened, the efficiency droop is less severe at elevated temperatures. The mechanism causing efficiency droop was identified in 2007 as Auger recombination, which was taken with mixed reaction. In 2013, a study confirmed Auger recombination as the cause of efficiency droop.
In addition to being less efficient, operating LEDs at higher electric currents creates higher heat levels, which can compromise LED lifetime. Because of this increased heat at higher currents, high-brightness LEDs have an industry standard of operating at only 350 mA, which is a compromise between light output, efficiency, and longevity.
3.1.1 Possible solutions
Instead of increasing current levels, luminance is usually increased by combining multiple LEDs in one bulb. Solving the problem of efficiency droop would mean that household LED light bulbs would need fewer LEDs, which would significantly reduce costs.
Researchers at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory have found a way to lessen the efficiency droop. They found that the droop arises from non-radiative Auger recombination of the injected carriers. They created quantum wells with a soft confinement potential to lessen the non-radiative Auger processes.
Researchers at Taiwan National Central University and Epistar Corp are developing a way to lessen the efficiency droop by using ceramic aluminium nitride (AlN) substrates, which are more thermally conductive than the commercially used sapphire. The higher thermal conductivity reduces self-heating effects.
4. Lifetime and failure
Solid-state devices such as LEDs are subject to very limited wear and tear if operated at low currents and at low temperatures. Typical lifetimes quoted are 25,000 to 100,000 hours, but heat and current settings can extend or shorten this time significantly. It is important to note that these projections are based on a standard test that may not accelerate all the potential mechanisms that can induce failures in LEDs.
The most common symptom of LED (and diode laser) failure is the gradual lowering of light output and loss of efficiency. Sudden failures, although rare, can also occur. Early red LEDs were notable for their short service life. With the development of high-power LEDs, the devices are subjected to higher junction temperatures and higher current densities than traditional devices. This causes stress on the material and may cause early light-output degradation. To quantify useful lifetime in a standardized manner, some suggest using L70 or L50, which are runtimes (typically in thousands of hours) at which a given LED reaches 70% and 50% of initial light output, respectively.
Whereas in most previous sources of light (incandescent lamps, discharge lamps, and those that burn combustible fuel, e.g. candles and oil lamps) the light results from heat, LEDs only operate if they are kept cool enough. The manufacturer commonly specifies a maximum junction temperature of 125 or 150 °C, and lower temperatures are advisable in the interests of long life. At these temperatures, relatively little heat is lost by radiation, which means that the light beam generated by an LED is cool.
The waste heat in a high-power LED (which as of 2015 can be less than half the power that it consumes) is conveyed by conduction through the substrate and package of the LED to a heat sink, which gives up the heat to the ambient air by convection. Careful thermal design is, therefore, essential, taking into account the thermal resistances of the LED’s package, the heat sink and the interface between the two. Medium-power LEDs are often designed to solder directly to a printed circuit board that contains a thermally conductive metal layer. High-power LEDs are packaged in large-area ceramic packages that attach to a metal heat sink—the interface being a material with high thermal conductivity (thermal grease, phase-change material, thermally conductive pad, or thermal adhesive).
If an LED-based lamp is installed in an unventilated luminaire, or a luminaire is located in an environment that does not have free air circulation, the LED is likely to overheat, resulting in reduced life or early catastrophic failure. Thermal design is often based on an ambient temperature of 25 °C (77 °F). LEDs used in outdoor applications, such as traffic signals or in-pavement signal lights, and in climates where the temperature within the light fixture gets very high, could experience reduced output or even failure.
Since LED efficacy is higher at low temperatures, LED technology is well suited for supermarket freezer lighting. Because LEDs produce less waste heat than incandescent lamps, freezer tube lighting use can save on refrigeration costs as well. However, they may be more susceptible to frost and snow buildup than incandescent lamps, so some LED lighting systems have been designed with an added heating circuit. Additionally, research has developed heat sink technologies that transfer heat produced within the junction to appropriate areas of the light fixture.
Quote from Wikipedia.