LED efficiency puzzle solved by UC Santa Barbara theorists

April 20, 2011
Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have figured out the cause of a problem that has made LEDs impractical for general lighting purposes.

Santa Barbara, CA--Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara have figured out the cause of a problem that has made LEDs impractical for general lighting purposes: efficiency droop, or the drop in efficiency that occurs at high powers.1

"Identifying the root cause of the problem is an indispensable first step toward devising solutions," says Chris Van de Walle, a professor in the Materials Department at UC Santa Barbara who heads the research group that carried out the work.

Van de Walle and his colleagues are working to improve the performance of nitride-based LEDs, which are the basis of white-light LEDs in use today and being developed for future use. The cause of efficiency droop has been the subject of considerable debate, but the UC Santa Barbara researchers say they've figured out the mechanism responsible for the effect by performing quantum-mechanical calculations.

Auger recombination is the culprit
LED droop, they conclude, can be attributed to Auger recombination, a process that occurs in semiconductors in which three charge-carriers interact without giving off light. The researchers also discovered that indirect Auger effects, which involve a scattering mechanism, are significant--a finding that accounts for the discrepancy between the observed degree of droop and that predicted by other theoretical studies, which only accounted for direct Auger processes.

In nitride LEDs, "These indirect processes form the dominant contribution to the Auger recombination rate," says Emmanouil Kioupakis, a postdoctoral researcher at UC Santa Barbara and lead author of a paper published online April 19 in Applied Physics Letters. The other authors are Van de Walle, Patrick Rinke, now with the Fritz Haber Institute in Germany, and Kris Delaney, a project scientist at UC Santa Barbara.

LED droop can't be eliminated because Auger effects are intrinsic, but it could be minimized, the researchers say, by using thicker quantum wells in LEDs or growing devices along non-polar or semi-polar growth directions in order to keep carrier density low.

"With Auger recombination now established as the culprit, we can focus on creative approaches to suppress or circumvent this loss mechanism," Van de Walle says.


REFERENCES:

1. Emmanouil Kioupakis et al., Applied Physics Letters 98, p. 161107 (2011); doi:10.1063/1.3570656

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About the Author

John Wallace | Senior Technical Editor (1998-2022)

John Wallace was with Laser Focus World for nearly 25 years, retiring in late June 2022. He obtained a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering and physics at Rutgers University and a master's in optical engineering at the University of Rochester. Before becoming an editor, John worked as an engineer at RCA, Exxon, Eastman Kodak, and GCA Corporation.

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