A light-emitting diode (LED) is a two-lead semiconductor light source. It is a p–n junction diode, which emits light when activated. When a suitable voltage is applied to the leads, electrons are able to recombine withelectron holes within the device, releasing energy in the form of photons. This effect is called electroluminescence, and the color of the light (corresponding to the energy of the photon) is determined by the energy band gap of the semiconductor.
An LED is often small in area (less than 1 mm2) and integrated optical components may be used to shape its radiation pattern.
Appearing as practical electronic components in 1962, the earliest LEDs emitted low-intensity infrared light. Infrared LEDs are still frequently used as transmitting elements in remote-control circuits, such as those in remote controls for a wide variety of consumer electronics. The first visible-light LEDs were also of low intensity, and limited to red. Modern LEDs are available across the visible, ultraviolet, and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness.
Early LEDs were often used as indicator lamps for electronic devices, replacing small incandescent bulbs. They were soon packaged into numeric readouts in the form of seven-segment displays, and were commonly seen in digital clocks.
Recent developments in LEDs permit them to be used in environmental and task lighting. LEDs have many advantages over incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved physical robustness, smaller size, and faster switching. Light-emitting diodes are now used in applications as diverse as aviation lighting, automotive headlamps, advertising, general lighting, traffic signals, camera flashes and lighted wallpaper. As of 2015, LEDs powerful enough for room lighting remain somewhat more expensive, and require more precise current and heat management, than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output.
LEDs have allowed new text, video displays, and sensors to be developed, while their high switching rates are also used in advanced communications technology.
Electroluminescence as a phenomenon was discovered in 1907 by the British experimenter H. J. Round of Marconi Labs, using a crystal of silicon carbide and a cat's-whisker detector. Soviet inventor Oleg Losev reported creation of the first LED in 1927 His research was distributed in Soviet, German and British scientific journals, but no practical use was made of the discovery for several decades. Kurt Lehovec, Carl Accardo andEdward Jamgochian, explained these first light-emitting diodes in 1951 using an apparatus employing SiC crystals with a current source of battery or pulse generator and with a comparison to a variant, pure, crystal in 1953.
Rubin Braunstein of the Radio Corporation of America reported on infrared emission from gallium arsenide (GaAs) and other semiconductor alloys in 1955. Braunstein observed infrared emission generated by simple diode structures using gallium antimonide (GaSb), GaAs, indium phosphide (InP), and silicon-germanium (SiGe) alloys at room temperature and at 77 kelvins.
In 1957, Braunstein further demonstrated that the rudimentary devices could be used for non-radio communication across a short distance. As noted by Kroemer Braunstein".. had set up a simple optical communications link: Music emerging from a record player was used via suitable electronics to modulate the forward current of a GaAs diode. The emitted light was detected by a PbS diode some distance away. This signal was fed into an audio amplifier, and played back by a loudspeaker. Intercepting the beam stopped the music. We had a great deal of fun playing with this setup." This setup presaged the use of LEDs for optical communication applications.
Diagram of a light emitting diode constructed on a zinc diffused area of gallium arsenide semi-insulating substrate In October 1961, while working at Texas Instruments in Dallas, TX, James R. Biard and Gary Pittman discovered infrared light emission from a tunnel diode they had constructed on a GaAs substrate. Later that month, they were able to demonstrate efficient light emission and signal coupling between a GaAs p-n junction light emitter and an electrically-isolated semiconductor photodetector. On August 8, 1962, Biard and Pittman filed a patent titled "Semiconductor Radiant Diode" based on their findings, which described a zinc diffused p–n junction LED with a spaced cathode contact to allow for efficient emission of infrared light under forward bias.
After establishing the priority of their work based on engineering notebooks predating submissions from G.E. Labs, RCA Research Labs, IBM Research Labs, Bell Labs, and Lincoln Lab at MIT, the U.S. patent office issued the two inventors the patent for the GaAs infrared (IR) light-emitting diode (U.S. Patent US3293513), the first practical LED. Immediately after filing the patent, Texas Instruments began a project to manufacture infrared diodes. In October 1962, they announced the first LED commercial product (the SNX-100), which employed a pure GaAs crystal to emit a 900 nm light output.
The first visible-spectrum (red) LED was developed in 1962 by Nick Holonyak, Jr., while working at General Electric Company. Holonyak first reported his LED in the journal Applied Physics Letters on the December 1, 1962. M. George Craford, a former graduate student of Holonyak, invented the first yellow LED and improved the brightness of red and red-orange LEDs by a factor of ten in 1972. In 1976, T. P. Pearsall created the first high-brightness, high-efficiency LEDs for optical fiber telecommunications by inventing new semiconductor materials specifically adapted to optical fiber transmission wavelengths.
Initial commercial development
The first commercial LEDs were commonly used as replacements for incandescent and neon indicator lamps, and in seven-segment displays, first in expensive equipment such as laboratory and electronics test equipment, then later in such appliances as TVs, radios, telephones, calculators, as well as watches (see list of signal uses). Until 1968, visible and infrared LEDs were extremely costly, in the order of US$200 per unit, and so had little practical use.The Monsanto Company was the first organization to mass-produce visible LEDs, using gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAsP) in 1968 to produce red LEDs suitable for indicators. Hewlett Packard (HP) introduced LEDs in 1968, initially using GaAsP supplied by Monsanto. These red LEDs were bright enough only for use as indicators, as the light output was not enough to illuminate an area. Readouts in calculators were so small that plastic lenses were built over each digit to make them legible. Later, other colors became widely available and appeared in appliances and equipment. In the 1970s commercially successful LED devices at less than five cents each were produced by Fairchild Optoelectronics. These devices employed compound semiconductor chips fabricated with the planar process invented by Dr. Jean Hoerni at Fairchild Semiconductor. The combination of planar processing for chip fabrication and innovative packaging methods enabled the team at Fairchild led by optoelectronics pioneer Thomas Brandt to achieve the needed cost reductions. These methods continue to be used by LED producers.
LED display of a TI-30
scientific calculator (ca. 1978), which uses plastic lenses to increase the visible digit size Most LEDs were made in the very common 5 mm T1¾ and 3 mm T1 packages, but with rising power output, it has grown increasingly necessary to shed excess heat to maintain reliability, so more complex packages have been adapted for efficient heat dissipation. Packages for state-of-the-art high-power LEDs bear little resemblance to early LEDs.
Blue LEDs were first developed by RCA in 1972. SiC-types were first commercially sold in the United States by Cree in 1989. However, neither of these initial blue LEDs were very bright.
The first high-brightness blue LED was demonstrated by Shuji Nakamura of Nichia Corporation in 1994 and was based on InGaN.In parallel, Isamu Akasaki and Hiroshi Amano in Nagoya were working on developing the important GaN nucleation on sapphire substrates and the demonstration of p-type doping of GaN. Nakamura, Akasaki and Amano were awarded the 2014 Nobel prize in physics for their work. In 1995, Alberto Barbieri at theCardiff University Laboratory (GB) investigated the efficiency and reliability of high-brightness LEDs and demonstrated a "transparent contact" LED using indium tin oxide (ITO) on (AlGaInP/GaAs).
The existence of blue LEDs and high-efficiency LEDs quickly led to the development of the first white LED, which employed a Y
12:Ce, or "YAG", phosphor coating to mix down-converted yellow light with blue to produce light that appears white.
In 2001 and 2002, processes for growing gallium nitride (GaN) LEDs on silicon were successfully demonstrated. In January 2012, Osram demonstrated high-power InGaN LEDs grown on silicon substrates commercially.
Illustration of Haitz's law
, showing improvement in light output per LED over time, with a logarithmic scale on the vertical axis The invention of the blue LED made possible a simple and effective way to generate white light. By coating a blue LED with a phosphor material, a portion of the blue light can be converted to green, yellow and red light. This mixture of colored light will be perceived by humans as white light and can therefore be used for general illumination. The first white LEDs were expensive and inefficient. However the development of LED technology has caused their efficiency and light output to rise exponentially, with a doubling occurring approximately every 36 months since the 1960s, in a way similar to Moore's law. This trend is generally attributed to the parallel development of other semiconductor technologies and advances in optics and material science, and has been called Haitz's law after Dr. Roland Haitz.
As LED materials technology grew more advanced, light output rose, while maintaining efficiency and reliability at acceptable levels. The invention and development of the high-power white-light LED led to its use for illumination, and it is slowly replacing incandescent and fluorescent lighting.
The blue LED was the final piece of the puzzle to create the RGB LED which has a gamut of most visible colors. LEDs can now produce over 300 lumens per watt of electricity, while lasting up to 100,000 hours.
The inner workings of an LED, showing circuit (top) and band diagram
(bottom)A P-N junction can convert absorbed light energy into a proportional electric current. The same process is reversed here (i.e. the P-N junction emits light when electrical energy is applied to it). This phenomenonis generally called electroluminescence, which can be defined as the emission of light from a semi-conductor under the influence of an electric field. The charge carriers recombine in a forward-biased P-N junction as the electrons cross from the N-region and recombine with the holes existing in the P-region. Free electrons are in the conduction band of energy levels, while holes are in the valence energy band. Thus the energy level of the holes will be lesser than the energy levels of the electrons. Some portion of the energy must be dissipated in order to recombine the electrons and the holes. This energy is emitted in the form of heat and light.
The electrons dissipate energy in the form of heat for silicon and germanium diodes but in gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAsP) and gallium phosphide (GaP) semiconductors, the electrons dissipate energy by emitting photons. If the semiconductor is translucent, the junction becomes the source of light as it is emitted, thus becoming a light-emitting diode, but when the junction is reverse biased no light will be produced by the LED and, on the contrary, the device may also be damaged.
I-V diagram for a diode
. An LED will begin to emit light when more than 2 or 3 volts is applied to it.
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 anon-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.
Most materials used for LED production have very high refractive indices. This means that much light will be reflected back into the material at the material/air surface interface. Thus, light extraction in LEDs is an important aspect of LED production, subject to much research and development.
Idealized example of light emission cones in a semiconductor, for a single point-source emission zone. The left illustration is for a fully translucent wafer, while the right illustration shows the half-cones formed when the bottom layer is fully opaque. The light is actually emitted equally in all directions from the point-source, so the areas between the cones shows the large amount of trapped light energy that is wasted as heat.
The light emission cones of a real LED wafer are far more complex than a single point-source light emission. The light emission zone is typically a two-dimensional plane between the wafers. Every atom across this plane has an individual set of emission cones. Drawing the billions of overlapping cones is impossible, so this is a simplified diagram showing the extents of all the emission cones combined. The larger side cones are clipped to show the interior features and reduce image complexity; they would extend to the opposite edges of the two-dimensional emission plane.
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. 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 3.96 (at 590 nm),while air is 1.0002926.
In general, a flat-surface uncoated LED semiconductor chip will emit 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 this 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 allowing light to be emitted perpendicular to the chip surface while 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.
After the doping of the wafer, it is 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:
- Mounting the semiconductor chip in devices is easier to accomplish.
- The tiny fragile electrical wiring is physically supported and protected from damage.
- 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, allowing light to be emitted at a much higher angle of incidence from the light cone than the bare chip is able to emit alone.
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 watt-per-watt efficiency value is derived using the luminosity function:
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 LED lighting operates 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).
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 to be true that, although 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 compromise the lifetime of the LED. Because of this increased heating 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.
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.
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.
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 quantitatively classify useful lifetime in a standardized manner it has been suggested to use the terms L70 and L50, which is the time it will take a given LED to reach 70% and 50% light output respectively.
LED performance is temperature dependent. Most manufacturers' published ratings of LEDs are for an operating temperature of 25 °C (77 °F). LEDs used outdoors, such as traffic signals or in-pavement signal lights, and that are used in climates where the temperature within the light fixture gets very high, could result in low signal intensities or even failure.
Since LED efficacy is inversely proportional to operating temperature, LED technology is well suited for supermarket freezer lighting.Because LEDs produce less waste heat than incandescent lamps, their use in freezers 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 will transfer heat produced within the junction to appropriate areas of the light fixture.
Colors and materials
Conventional LEDs are made from a variety of inorganic semiconductor materials. The following table shows the available colors with wavelength range, voltage drop and material:
Blue and ultraviolet
Current bright blue LEDs are based on the wide band gap between semiconductors GaN (gallium nitride) and InGaN (indium gallium nitride). They can be added to existing red and green LEDs to produce the impression of white light. Modules combining the three colors are used in big video screens and in adjustable-color fixtures.
The first blue-violet LED using magnesium-doped gallium nitride was made at Stanford University in 1972 by Herb Maruska and Wally Rhines, doctoral students in materials science and engineering.At the time Maruska was on leave from RCA Laboratories, where he collaborated with Jacques Pankove on related work. In 1971, the year after Maruska left for Stanford, his RCA colleagues Pankove and Ed Miller demonstrated the first blue electroluminescence from zinc-doped gallium nitride, though the subsequent device Pankove and Miller built, the first actual gallium nitride light-emitting diode, emitted green light. In 1974 the U.S. Patent Office awarded Maruska, Rhines and Stanford professor David Stevenson a patent for their work in 1972 (U.S. Patent US3819974 A) and today magnesium-doping of gallium nitride continues to be the basis for all commercial blue LEDs and laser diodes. These devices built in the early 1970s had too little light output to be of practical use and research into gallium nitride devices slowed. In August 1989, Cree introduced the first commercially available blue LED based on the indirect bandgap semiconductor, silicon carbide. SiC LEDs had very low efficiency, no more than about 0.03%, but did emit in the blue portion of the visible light spectrum.
In the late 1980s, key breakthroughs in GaN epitaxial growth and p-type doping ushered in the modern era of GaN-based optoelectronic devices. Building upon this foundation, in 1993 high-brightness blue LEDs were demonstrated. High-brightness blue LEDs invented by Shuji Nakamura of Nichia Corporation using gallium nitride revolutionized LED lighting, making high-power light sources practical.
Nakamura was awarded the 2006 Millennium Technology Prize for his invention. Nakamura, Hiroshi Amano and Isamu Akasaki were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2014 for the invention of the blue LED.
By the late 1990s, blue LEDs became widely available. They have an active region consisting of one or more InGaN quantum wells sandwiched between thicker layers of GaN, called cladding layers. By varying the relative In/Ga fraction in the InGaN quantum wells, the light emission can in theory be varied from violet to amber. Aluminium gallium nitride (AlGaN) of varying Al/Ga fraction can be used to manufacture the cladding and quantum well layers for ultraviolet LEDs, but these devices have not yet reached the level of efficiency and technological maturity of InGaN/GaN blue/green devices. If un-alloyed GaN is used in this case to form the active quantum well layers, the device will emit near-ultraviolet light with a peak wavelength centred around 365 nm. Green LEDs manufactured from the InGaN/GaN system are far more efficient and brighter than green LEDs produced with non-nitride material systems, but practical devices still exhibit efficiency too low for high-brightness applications.
With nitrides containing aluminium, most often AlGaN and AlGaInN, even shorter wavelengths are achievable. Ultraviolet LEDs in a range of wavelengths are becoming available on the market. Near-UV emitters at wavelengths around 375–395 nm are already cheap and often encountered, for example, as black light lamp replacements for inspection of anti-counterfeiting UV watermarks in some documents and paper currencies. Shorter-wavelength diodes, while substantially more expensive, are commercially available for wavelengths down to 240 nm. As the photosensitivity of microorganisms approximately matches the absorption spectrum of DNA, with a peak at about 260 nm, UV LED emitting at 250–270 nm are to be expected in prospective disinfection and sterilization devices. Recent research has shown that commercially available UVA LEDs (365 nm) are already effective disinfection and sterilization devices.
Deep-UV wavelengths were obtained in laboratories using aluminium nitride (210 nm), boron nitride (215 nm) and diamond (235 nm).
RGB LEDs consist of one red, one green, and one blue LED. By independently attenuating each of the three, RGB LEDs are capable of producing a wide color gamut.
There are two primary ways of producing white light-emitting diodes (WLEDs), LEDs that generate high-intensity white light. One is to use individual LEDs that emit three primary colors red, green, and blue—and then mix all the colors to form white light. The other is to use a phosphor material to convert monochromatic light from a blue or UV LED to broad-spectrum white light, much in the same way a fluorescent light bulb works.
There are three main methods of mixing colors to produce white light from an LED:
- blue LED + green LED + red LED (color mixing; can be used as backlighting for displays)
- near-UV or UV LED + RGB phosphor (an LED producing light with a wavelength shorter than blue's is used to excite an RGB phosphor)
- blue LED + yellow phosphor (two complementary colors combine to form white light; more efficient than first two methods and more commonly used)
Because of metamerism, it is possible to have quite different spectra that appear white. However, the appearance of objects illuminated by that light may vary as the spectrum varies.
Combined spectral curves for blue, yellow-green, and high-brightness red solid-state semiconductor LEDs. FWHM
spectral bandwidth is approximately 24–27 nm for all three colors.
White light can be formed by mixing differently colored lights; the most common method is to use red, green, and blue (RGB). Hence the method is called multi-color white LEDs (sometimes referred to as RGB LEDs). Because these need electronic circuits to control the blending and diffusion of different colors, and because the individual color LEDs typically have slightly different emission patterns (leading to variation of the color depending on direction) even if they are made as a single unit, these are seldom used to produce white lighting. Nonetheless, this method has many applications because of the flexibility of mixing different colors, and in principle, this mechanism also has higher quantum efficiency in producing white light.
There are several types of multi-color white LEDs: di-, tri-, and tetrachromatic white LEDs. Several key factors that play among these different methods, include color stability, color rendering capability, and luminous efficacy. Often, higher efficiency will mean lower color rendering, presenting a trade-off between the luminous efficacy and color rendering. For example, the dichromatic white LEDs have the best luminous efficacy (120 lm/W), but the lowest color rendering capability. However, although tetrachromatic white LEDs have excellent color rendering capability, they often have poor luminous efficacy. Trichromatic white LEDs are in between, having both good luminous efficacy (>70 lm/W) and fair color rendering capability.
One of the challenges is the development of more efficient green LEDs. The theoretical maximum for green LEDs is 683 lumens per watt but as of 2010 few green LEDs exceed even 100 lumens per watt. The blue and red LEDs get closer to their theoretical limits.
Multi-color LEDs offer not merely another means to form white light but a new means to form light of different colors. Most perceivable colors can be formed by mixing different amounts of three primary colors. This allows precise dynamic color control. As more effort is devoted to investigating this method, multi-color LEDs should have profound influence on the fundamental method that we use to produce and control light color. However, before this type of LED can play a role on the market, several technical problems must be solved. These include that this type of LED's emission power decays exponentially with rising temperature, resulting in a substantial change in color stability. Such problems inhibit and may preclude industrial use. Thus, many new package designs aimed at solving this problem have been proposed and their results are now being reproduced by researchers and scientists.
Correlated color temperature (CCT) dimming for LED technology is regarded as a difficult task, since binning, age and temperature drift effects of LEDs change the actual color value output. Feedback loop systems are used for example with color sensors, to actively monitor and control the color output of multiple color mixing LEDs.
Spectrum of a white LED showing blue light directly emitted by the GaN-based LED (peak at about 465 nm) and the more broadband Stokes-shifted
light emitted by the Ce3+:YAG phosphor, which emits at roughly 500–700 nm
This method involves coating LEDs of one color (mostly blue LEDs made of InGaN) with phosphors of different colors to form white light; the resultant LEDs are called phosphor-based or phosphor-converted white LEDs (pcLEDs). A fraction of the blue light undergoes the Stokes shift being transformed from shorter wavelengths to longer. Depending on the color of the original LED, phosphors of different colors can be employed. If several phosphor layers of distinct colors are applied, the emitted spectrum is broadened, effectively raising the color rendering index (CRI) value of a given LED.
Phosphor-based LED efficiency losses are due to the heat loss from the Stokes shift and also other phosphor-related degradation issues. Their luminous efficacies compared to normal LEDs depend on the spectral distribution of the resultant light output and the original wavelength of the LED itself. For example, the luminous efficacy of a typical YAG yellow phosphor based white LED ranges from 3 to 5 times the luminous efficacy of the original blue LED because of the human eye's greater sensitivity to yellow than to blue (as modeled in the luminosity function). Due to the simplicity of manufacturing the phosphor method is still the most popular method for making high-intensity white LEDs. The design and production of a light source or light fixture using a monochrome emitter with phosphor conversion is simpler and cheaper than a complex RGB system, and the majority of high-intensity white LEDs presently on the market are manufactured using phosphor light conversion.
Among the challenges being faced to improve the efficiency of LED-based white light sources is the development of more efficient phosphors. As of 2010, the most efficient yellow phosphor is still the YAG phosphor, with less than 10% Stoke shift loss. Losses attributable to internal optical losses due to re-absorption in the LED chip and in the LED packaging itself account typically for another 10% to 30% of efficiency loss. Currently, in the area of phosphor LED development, much effort is being spent on optimizing these devices to higher light output and higher operation temperatures. For instance, the efficiency can be raised by adapting better package design or by using a more suitable type of phosphor. Conformal coating process is frequently used to address the issue of varying phosphor thickness.
Some phosphor-based white LEDs encapsulate InGaN blue LEDs inside phosphor-coated epoxy. Alternatively, the LED might be paired with a remote phosphor, a preformed polycarbonate piece coated with the phosphor material. Remote phosphors provide more diffuse light, which is desirable for many applications. Remote phosphor designs are also more tolerant of variations in the LED emissions spectrum. A common yellow phosphor material is cerium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet (Ce3+:YAG).
White LEDs can also be made by coating near-ultraviolet (NUV) LEDs with a mixture of high-efficiency europium-based phosphors that emit red and blue, plus copper and aluminium-doped zinc sulfide (ZnS:Cu, Al) that emits green. This is a method analogous to the way fluorescent lamps work. This method is less efficient than blue LEDs with YAG:Ce phosphor, as the Stokes shift is larger, so more energy is converted to heat, but yields light with better spectral characteristics, which render color better. Due to the higher radiative output of the ultraviolet LEDs than of the blue ones, both methods offer comparable brightness. A concern is that UV light may leak from a malfunctioning light source and cause harm to human eyes or skin.
Other white LEDs
Another method used to produce experimental white light LEDs used no phosphors at all and was based on homoepitaxially grown zinc selenide (ZnSe) on a ZnSe substrate that simultaneously emitted blue light from its active region and yellow light from the substrate.
A new style of wafers composed of gallium-nitride-on-silicon (GaN-on-Si) is being used to produce white LEDs using 200-mm silicon wafers. This avoids the typical costly sapphire substrate in relatively small 100- or 150-mm wafer sizes. The sapphire apparatus must be coupled with a mirror-like collector to reflect light that would otherwise be wasted. It is predicted that by 2020, 40% of all GaN LEDs will be made with GaN-on-Si. Manufacturing large sapphire material is difficult, while large silicon material is cheaper and more abundant. LED companies shifting from using sapphire to silicon should be a minimal investment.
Organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs)
Orange light-emitting diode
In an organic light-emitting diode (OLED), the electroluminescent material comprising the emissive layer of the diode is an organic compound. The organic material is electrically conductive due to the delocalization of pi electrons caused by conjugation over all or part of the molecule, and the material therefore functions as an organic semiconductor. The organic materials can be small organic molecules in a crystalline phase, orpolymers.
The potential advantages of OLEDs include thin, low-cost displays with a low driving voltage, wide viewing angle, and high contrast and color gamut. Polymer LEDs have the added benefit of printable and flexible displays. OLEDs have been used to make visual displays for portable electronic devices such as cellphones, digital cameras, and MP3 players while possible future uses include lighting and televisions.
Quantum dot LEDs
Quantum dots (QD) are semiconductor nanocrystals that possess unique optical properties. Their emission color can be tuned from the visible throughout the infrared spectrum. This allows quantum dot LEDs to create almost any color on the CIE diagram. This provides more color options and better color rendering than white LEDs since the emission spectrum is much narrower, characteristic of quantum confined states. There are two types of schemes for QD excitation. One uses photo excitation with a primary light source LED (typically blue or UV LEDs are used). The other is direct electrical excitation first demonstrated by Alivisatos et al.
One example of the photo-excitation scheme is a method developed by Michael Bowers, at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, involving coating a blue LED with quantum dots that glow white in response to the blue light from the LED. This method emits a warm, yellowish-white light similar to that made by incandescent light bulbs. Quantum dots are also being considered for use in white light-emitting diodes in liquid crystal display (LCD) televisions.
In February 2011 scientists at PlasmaChem GmbH were able to synthesize quantum dots for LED applications and build a light converter on their basis, which was able to efficiently convert light from blue to any other color for many hundred hours. Such QDs can be used to emit visible or near infrared light of any wavelength being excited by light with a shorter wavelength.
The structure of QD-LEDs used for the electrical-excitation scheme is similar to basic design of OLEDs. A layer of quantum dots is sandwiched between layers of electron-transporting and hole-transporting materials. An applied electric field causes electrons and holes to move into the quantum dot layer and recombine forming an exciton that excites a QD. This scheme is commonly studied for quantum dot display. The tunability of emission wavelengths and narrow bandwidth is also beneficial as excitation sources for fluorescence imaging. Fluorescence near-field scanning optical microscopy (NSOM) utilizing an integrated QD-LED has been demonstrated.
In February 2008, a luminous efficacy of 300 lumens of visible light per watt of radiation (not per electrical watt) and warm-light emission was achieved by using nanocrystals.