Examining Light Emitting Diodes Engineering Essay

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A light-emitting diode (LED) is a semiconductor light source. LEDs are used as indicator lamps in many devices, and are increasingly used for lighting. Introduced as a practical electronic component in 1962.early LEDs emitted low-intensity red light, but modern versions are available across the visible,ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths, with very high brightness.

When a light-emitting diode is forward biased (switched on), electrons are able to recombine with 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 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. LEDs present many advantages over incandescent light sources including lower energy consumption, longer lifetime, improved robustness, smaller size, faster switching, and greater durability and reliability. LEDs powerful enough for room lighting are relatively expensive and require more precise current and heat management than compact fluorescent lamp sources of comparable output.

Light-emitting diodes are used in applications as diverse as replacements for aviation lighting, automotive lighting (particularly brake lamps, turn signals and indicators) as well as in traffic signals. The compact size, the possibility of narrow bandwidth, switching speed, and extreme reliability of LEDs has allowed new text and video displays and sensors to be developed, while their high switching rates are also useful in advanced communications technology. Infrared LEDs are also used in the remote controlunits of many commercial products including televisions, DVD players, and other domestic appliances.

The inner workings of an LED

I-V diagram for a diode. An LED will begin to emit light when the on-voltage is exceeded. Typical on voltages are 2-3 volts


Like a normal diode, 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 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.

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.   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 [W]. 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 is its high efficiency, as measured by its light output per unit power input. White LEDs quickly matched and overtook the efficiency of standard incandescent lighting systems. In 2002, Lumileds made five-watt LEDs available with a luminous efficacy of 18-22 lumens per watt [lm/W]. For comparison, a conventional 60-100 W incandescent lightbulb emits around 15 lm/W, and standard fluorescent lights emit up to 100 lm/W. A recurring problem is that efficiency falls sharply with rising current. This effect is known as droop and effectively limits the light output of a given LED, raising heating more than light output for higher current.

In September 2003, a new type of blue LED was demonstrated by the company Cree Inc. to provide 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. Also, Seoul Semiconductor plans for 135 lm/W by 2007 and 145 lm/W by 2008, which would be nearing an order of magnitude improvement over standard incandescents and better than even standard fluorescents. Nichia Corporation has developed a white LED with luminous efficacy of 150 lm/W at a forward current of 20 mA

Practical general lighting needs high-power LEDs, of one watt or more. Typical operating currents for such devices begin at 350 mA.

Note that these efficiencies are for the LED chip only, held at low temperature in a lab. Lighting works at higher temperature and with drive circuit losses, so 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).

Cree issued a press release on February 3, 2010 about a laboratory prototype LED achieving 208 lumens per watt at room temperature. The correlated color temperature was reported to be 4579 K.

Lifetime and failure

List of LED failure modes

Solid state devices such as LEDs are subject to very limited wear and tear if operated at low currents and at low temperatures. Many of the LEDs made in the 1970s and 1980s are still in service today. 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 occur as well. Early red LEDs were notable for their short lifetime. 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 lifetime in a standardized manner it has been suggested to use the terms L75 and L50 which is the time it will take a given LED to reach 75% and 50% light output respectively.

Like other lighting devices, LED performance is temperature dependent. Most manufacturers' published ratings of LEDs are for an operating temperature of 25°C. LEDs used outdoors, such as traffic signals or in-pavement signal lights, and that are utilized in climates where the temperature within the luminaire gets very hot, could result in low signal intensities or even failure.

LED light output actually rises at colder temperatures (leveling off depending on type at around -30C). Consequently, LED technology may be a good replacement in uses such as supermarket freezer lighting and will last longer than other technologies. Because LEDs emit less heat than incandescent bulbs, they are an energy-efficient technology for uses such as freezers. However, because they emit little heat, ice and snow may build up on the LED luminaire in colder climates.This lack of waste heat generation has been observed to cause sometimes significant problems with street traffic signals and airport runway lighting in snow-prone areas, although some research has been done to try to develop heat sink technologies to transfer heat to other areas of the luminaire.

 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:


Wavelength (nm)

Voltage (V)

Semiconductor Material


λ >760

ΔV <1.9

Gallium arsenide (GaAs)

Aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs)


610 < λ <760

1.63 <ΔV <2.03

Aluminium gallium arsenide (AlGaAs)

Gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAsP)

Aluminium gallium indium phosphide (AlGaInP)

Gallium(III) phosphide (GaP)


590 < λ <610

2.03 <ΔV <2.10

Gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAsP)

Aluminium gallium indium phosphide (AlGaInP)

Gallium(III) phosphide (GaP)


570 < λ <590

2.10 <ΔV <2.18

Gallium arsenide phosphide (GaAsP)

Aluminium gallium indium phosphide (AlGaInP)

Gallium(III) phosphide (GaP)


500 < λ <570

1.9[41] <ΔV <4.0

Indium gallium nitride (InGaN) / Gallium(III) nitride (GaN)

Gallium(III) phosphide (GaP)

Aluminium gallium indium phosphide (AlGaInP)

Aluminium gallium phosphide (AlGaP)


450 < λ <500

2.48 <ΔV <3.7

Zinc selenide (ZnSe)

Indium gallium nitride (InGaN)

Silicon carbide (SiC) as substrate

Silicon (Si) as substrate - (under development)


400 < λ <450

2.76 <ΔV <4.0

Indium gallium nitride (InGaN)


multiple types

2.48 <ΔV <3.7

Dual blue/red LEDs,

blue with red phosphor,

or white with purple plastic


λ <400

3.1 <ΔV <4.4

Diamond (235 nm)[42]

Boron nitride (215 nm)[43]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode#cite_note-bn2-43"[44]

Aluminium nitride (AlN) (210 nm)[45]

Aluminium gallium nitride (AlGaN)

Aluminium gallium indium nitride (AlGaInN) - (down to 210 nm)


Broad spectrum

ΔV = 3.5

Blue/UV diode with yellow phosphor  


Efficiency: LEDs emit more light per watt than incandescent bulbs.[74] Their efficiency is not affected by shape and size, unlike Fluorescent light bulbs or tubes.

Color: LEDs can emit light of an intended color without using any color filters as traditional lighting methods need. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.

Size: LEDs can be very small (smaller than 2 mm]) and are easily populated onto printed circuit boards.

On/Off time: LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED will achieve full brightness in under a microsecond. LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.

Cycling: LEDs are ideal for uses subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike fluorescent lamps that fail faster when cycled often, or HID lamps that require a long time before restarting.

Dimming: LEDs can very easily be dimmed either by pulse-width modulation or lowering the forward current.

Cool light: In contrast to most light sources, LEDs radiate very little heat in the form of IR that can cause damage to sensitive objects or fabrics. Wasted energy is dispersed as heat through the base of the LED.

Slow failure: LEDs mostly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt failure of incandescent bulbs.

Lifetime: LEDs can have a relatively long useful life. One report estimates 35,000 to 50,000 hours of useful life, though time to complete failure may be longer[  Fluorescent tubes typically are rated at about 10,000 to 15,000 hours, depending partly on the conditions of use, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000-2,000 hours.

Shock resistance: LEDs, being solid state components, are difficult to damage with external shock, unlike fluorescent and incandescent bulbs which are fragile.

Focus: The solid package of the LED can be designed to focus its light. Incandescent and fluorescent sources often require an external reflector to collect light and direct it in a usable manner.

Low toxicity: LEDs do not contain mercury, unlike fluorescent lamps.


Some Fluorescent lamps can be more efficient.

High initial price: LEDs are currently more expensive, price per lumen, on an initial capital cost basis, than most conventional lighting technologies. The additional expense partially stems from the relatively low lumen output and the drive circuitry and power supplies needed.

Temperature dependence: LED performance largely depends on the ambient temperature of the operating environment. Over-driving an LED in high ambient temperatures may result in overheating the LED package, eventually leading to device failure. Adequate heat sinking is needed to maintain long life. This is especially important in automotive, medical, and military uses where devices must operate over a wide range of temperatures, and need low failure rates.

Voltage sensitivity: LEDs must be supplied with the voltage above the threshold and a current below the rating. This can involve series resistors or current-regulated power supplies.

Light quality: Most cool-white LEDs have spectra that differ significantly from a black body radiator like the sun or an incandescent light. The spike at 460 nm and dip at 500 nm can cause the color of objects to beperceived differently under cool-white LED illumination than sunlight or incandescent sources, due to metamerism,[80] red surfaces being rendered particularly badly by typical phosphor based cool-white LEDs. However, the color rendering properties of common fluorescent lamps are often inferior to what is now available in state-of-art white LEDs.

Area light source: LEDs do not approximate a "point source" of light, but rather a lambertian distribution. So LEDs are difficult to apply to uses needing a spherical light field. LEDs cannot provide divergence below a few degrees. In contrast, lasers can emit beams with divergences of 0.2 degrees or less.

Blue hazard: There is a concern that blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1-05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems.

Blue pollution: Because cool-white LEDs (i.e., LEDs with high color temperature) emit proportionally more blue light than conventional outdoor light sources such as high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, the strong wavelength dependence of Rayleigh scattering means that cool-white LEDs can cause more light pollution than other light sources. The International Dark-Sky Association discourages using white light sources with correlated color temperature above 3,000 K.[84]

Droop: The efficiency of LEDs tends to decrease as one increases current.[85]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode#cite_note-85"[86]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode#cite_note-86"[87]HYPERLINK "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-emitting_diode#cite_note-87"[88]


With the development of high efficiency and high power LEDs it has grown possible to use LEDs in lighting and illumination. Replacement light bulbs have been made, as well as dedicated fixtures and LED lamps. LEDs are used as street lights and in other architectural lighting where color changing is used. The mechanical robustness and long lifetime is used in automotive lighting on cars, motorcycles and on bicycle lights.

LED street lights are employed on poles and in parking garages. In 2007, the Italian village Torraca was the first place to convert its entire illumination system to LEDs.[91]

LEDs are used in aviation lighting. Airbus has used LED lighting in their Airbus A320 Enhanced since 2007, and Boeing plans its use in the 787. LEDs are also being used now in airport and heliport lighting. LED airport fixtures currently include medium intensity runway lights, runway centerline lights and obstruction lighting.

LEDs are also suitable for backlighting for LCD televisions and lightweight laptop displays and light source for DLP projectors (See LED TV). RGB LEDs raise the color gamut by as much as 45%. Screens for TV and computer displays can be made thinner using LEDs for backlighting.

LEDs are used increasingly commonly in aquarium lights. Particularly for reef aquariums, LED lights provide an efficient light source with less heat output to help maintain optimal aquarium temperatures. LED-based aquarium fixtures also have the advantage of being manually adjustable to emit a specific color-spectrum for ideal coloration of corals, fish, and invertebrates while optimizing photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) which raises growth and sustainability of photosynthetic life such as corals, anemones, clams, and macroalgae. These fixtures can be electronically programmed to simulate various lighting conditions throughout the day, reflecting phases of the sun and moon for a dynamic reef experience. LED fixtures typically cost up to five times as much as similarly rated fluorescent or high-intensity discharge lighting designed for reef aquariums and are not as high output to date.

The lack of IR/heat radiation makes LEDs ideal for stage lights using banks of RGB LEDs that can easily change color and decrease heating from traditional stage lighting, as well as medical lighting where IR-radiation can be harmful.

LEDs are small, durable and need little power, so they are used in hand held devices such as flashlights. LED strobe lights or camera flashes operate at a safe, low voltage, instead of the 250+ volts commonly found in xenon flashlamp-based lighting. This is especially useful in cameras on mobile phones, where space is at a premium and bulky voltage-raising circuitry is undesirable. LEDs are used for infrared illumination in night vision uses including security cameras. A ring of LEDs around a video camera, aimed forward into aretroreflective background, allows chroma keying in video productions.

LEDs are used for decorative lighting as well. Uses include but are not limited to indoor/outdoor decor, limousines, cargo trailers, conversion vans, cruise ships, RVs, boats, automobiles, and utility trucks. Decorative LED lighting can also come in the form of lighted company signage and step and aisle lighting in theaters and auditoriums.

 Smart lighting

Light can be used to transmit broadband data, which is already implemented in IrDA standards using infrared LEDs. Because LEDs can cycle on and off millions of times per second, they can be wireless transmitters and access points for data transport. Lasers can also be modulated in this manner.

Sustainable lighting

Efficient lighting is needed for sustainable architecture. A 13 watt LED lamp emits 450 to 650 lumens.[94] which is equivalent to a standard 40 watt incandescent bulb. [95] A standard 40 W incandescent bulb has an expected lifespan of 1,000 hours while an LED can continue to operate with reduced efficiency for more than 50,000 hours, 50 times longer than the incandescent bulb.