A Comprehensive Guide to Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
Light Emitting Diodes, commonly known as LEDs, have come a long way since their inception in the 1970s. Initially used in numeric displays and indicator lights, LEDs now find applications in various fields, such as exit signs, accent lights, task lights, traffic lights, automobile lighting, signage, wall sconces, and outdoor lighting. In this extensive guide, we will delve into the world of LEDs, uncovering their characteristics, method of operation, types, advantages, and applications.
Characteristics of LEDs
LEDs are solid-state semiconductor devices that emit light when a semiconductor crystal is excited. This process results in the direct production of visible light in the desired wavelength range (color). LED units are typically small, with dimensions around 5mm (T 1-3/4).
Method of Operation
When an LED unit is activated, a power supply converts AC voltage into sufficient DC voltage, which is then applied across the diode semiconductor crystal. This causes electrons (negative charge carriers [N]) in the diode’s electron transport layer and holes (positive charge carriers [P]) in the diode’s hole transport layer to combine at the P-N junction, converting their excess energy into light. The LED is sealed in a clear or diffuse plastic lens that can provide a range of angular distributions of the light.
The color composition of the light emitted by an LED is determined by the chemical composition of the material being excited. LEDs can produce a wide array of colors, including white, deep blue, blue, green, yellow, amber, orange, red, bright red, and deep red.
Efficacy and Efficiency
LEDs are low-voltage, low-current devices that are efficient light sources. For red, amber, yellow, green, and blue LEDs, new materials have been developed that are more efficient than traditional materials, producing efficacies (lumens per watt) greater than incandescent lamps and rivaling fluorescent lamps. In laboratory conditions, efficacies as high as 100 LPW have been achieved. Experts believe that solid-state sources could achieve 150-200 lumens per watt in the coming decades.
White Light LEDs
The utilization of indium gallium nitride (InGaN) as a semiconductor material resulted in the development of the brightest LEDs, enabling the production of white light LEDs. These LEDs feature a phosphor added to a blue LED, which converts some of the light emission into yellow, resulting in a bluish-white light. White light LEDs are cool light sources with a spectrum of correlated color temperatures ranging from 4,000 to 11,000K. White light can also be achieved by color mixing the light produced by red, blue, and green LEDs.
The Evolution of LEDs
LED technology has evolved significantly since its early days. Initially, LEDs were limited to infrared low-intensity lights used in remote control applications for consumer electronics. During this time, red light was predominantly used in LEDs. In 2002, researchers succeeded in adding white light to the LED semiconductors, broadening their applicability.
Today’s LEDs come in various wavelengths, ranging from ultraviolet to visible and infrared wavelengths, producing light with high brightness. This efficiency in converting electricity into light makes LEDs an ideal choice for computer chip technology, adding an extra layer of both effectiveness and durability.
LED Working Principle
LEDs are composed of four main parts: die, substrate, phosphor, and lens. The die is a semiconductor material containing gallium nitride (GaN) that emits blue light when electric current passes through it. To facilitate the easy integration of LEDs, one or two dies are often used in combination with the substrate, generating enough power to light up the LED.
White light is generally preferred over blue light in general lighting applications, and the desired color is produced using phosphor. When blue light emitted from the die strikes phosphor particles, white light is generated. The phosphor can be applied to the die material in two ways: directly or layered with the lens material that either extracts or directs the light. The lens material is typically made of silicon or glass.
LEDs often generate monochromatic light ranging from red to blue and violet. Traditional LEDs are formed using inorganic semiconductor materials such as aluminum, gallium, silicon, indium, and zinc. These materials produce different colors based on the type of material used. For example, aluminum gallium phosphide produces green light, while aluminum gallium nitride and aluminum gallium arsenide produce ultraviolet and red light, respectively.
While LEDs are known for their low power consumption and efficiency, their use in high-temperature and high-pressure environments can make them vulnerable. Some LEDs incorporate a heat sink on their interface to prevent overheating and make them suitable for use in conditions where high temperature is a concern. However, a very high temperature can cause the heat sink to stop working, potentially leading to LED failure. Before using LEDs for your projects, ensure the temperature ratings match and resonate with the LEDs you are using.
Types of LEDs
LEDs come in various types, each suitable for specific applications. Some of the main types of LEDs include:
High Power LEDs
LEDs with a power rating of 1 watt or greater are referred to as High Power LEDs. These LEDs are primarily used for generating maximum brightness. Due to their high input power requirements, they are prone to heat dissipation. To keep these LEDs cool and prevent them from burning, heat sinks are required. High Power LEDs are commonly used in flashlights, spotlights, and automobile headlamps.
RGB LEDs are widely used in many computer applications and can generate three colors: red, blue, and green. The color of these lights is controlled using Pulse Width Modulation (PWM). Both the duty cycle of PWM and the frequency used for generating the signal per second are helpful in controlling all three colors.
Surface Mount Device (SMD) LEDs are designed to be mounted on Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs). They can be easily categorized based on their physical dimensions and can work either separately or in combination with compatible devices.
Thru-hole LEDs have two terminal leads that are embedded into the holes of the printed circuit board. They are available in various packages and shapes, with the most common colors being white, red, blue, and green.
Advantages of LEDs
LEDs consume approximately 75% less power than conventional incandescent lights while producing brightness with equal intensity. Although purchasing LEDs may initially be more expensive than regular halogen lights, they prove to be economical in the long run due to their high quality, longer lifespan, and lower power consumption.
The compact size of LEDs allows them to fit in hard-to-reach places, such as ceiling lighting, cove lighting, tray lighting, and cabinet lighting. Landscape lighting has been made easier and more seamless, thanks to the robust nature of LEDs. Their ability to generate and optimize the light beam angle at the desired distance and adapt to any shape according to the environment makes them ideal for creating beautifully layered lighting using a single source.
LEDs have also been used in the development of some digital clocks and the 7-segment LED display, a widely used student project that incorporates an array of LEDs in an organized manner. They are extensively used in automotive industries, LCD panels, fiber-optic data transmission, and remote control devices. LEDs are also valuable in advertising, captivating visitors when placed in banners or decorating trees with numerous infrared lights.
In this comprehensive guide, we have covered various aspects of Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs), including their characteristics, method of operation, types, advantages, and applications. LEDs have come a long way since their early days, becoming more efficient, versatile, and widely used in various industries. As technology continues to advance, we can expect LED technology to further evolve and permeate even more aspects of our daily lives.