Saga of efficiency degradation at high injection in InGaN light emitting diodes

Journal Article (Review;Journal)

What has turned into highly complex and somewhat misunderstood efficiency loss mechanisms occurring in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) based on the InN-GaN material system at high injection levels are discussed. Suggestions are made as to the dominant mechanism(s) in an open forum format as well as pointing out some of the shortcomings of the methodologies used and premises forwarded. It is unequivocally known that increased junction temperature would cause a reduction in radiative power due to mainly the reduction in radiative recombination efficiency. Another obvious mechanism is the asymmetry in doping in wide bandgap semiconductors, such as GaN, wherein the hole concentration lags well behind that of electrons in the active region. Because an electron and a hole are required for radiative recombination, the radiative efficiency cannot keep up with increasing carrier injection due to progressively lagging hole population. This results in either electron escape without radiative recombination or electron accumulation, which in turn changes the internal bias of the device, manifested as reduced internal forward bias, which reduces the rate of increase in light intensity. Some of the reports ascribe the efficiency loss at high injection levels to Auger recombination (mainly through indirect and recently reportedly direct deductions) as the main and or the only source of efficiency loss by in many cases simply relying on the temperature and injection independent (not well taken) A;B;C coefficients to fit a third order polynomial to the efficiency vs. injection current. As for the direct deduction, the spectroscopic analysis of Auger kicked hot electrons as they traverse through the Γ and L bands before being emitted into the vacuum by means of cesiated surface challenges the existing theories and some experiments regarding carrier scattering and Γ-L separation. Despite just a few reports to the contrary, the bulk of the resonant optical emission experiments do not support the Auger argument as being the main cause. In parallel, there exists a body of theoretical and experimental reports for electron overow of ballistic/quasi-ballistic electrons traversing the active region to p-GaN, escaping recombination altogether in the active region. In fact and from the get go, the LED industry ubiquitously employed, and continues to do so, an (Al,In)GaN electron-blocking layer (EBL) to prevent electron escape for improved light output that in and of itself would more than suggest that the electron escape (overow) does indeed occur. The only adverse effect of EBL is that it impedes hole injection due to the valence band offset between the p-type (Al,In)GaN EBL and p-GaN and also generates piezoelectric (if not lattice matched) and differential spontaneous polarization induced fields that pull down the conduction band edge at the interface reducing EBL's effectiveness. To at least reduce the aforementioned aggravating factors to some extent, the electron overflow and the associated efficiency loss can be reduced substantially (particulars of which depend on the active layer design) by inserting a stair-case electron injector (SEI) with a step-like indium composition to act as an "electron cooler" or by linearly graded cooler in some form or another prior to the active region. Use of multiple layered heterostructures for the active layers also plays the role of electron cooler, albeit not necessarily in the most optimum fashion. As if oblivious to the raging issues alluded to above, the LED industry has been moving along very successfully with a 2-prong approach. In one, dubbed the "high voltage LED", a set of LEDs (most likely configured in the form of a full-wave bridge rectifier) operating at low currents, where the efficiency is at its maximum, is used, which also has the added benefit of much reduced power supply complexity and weight. The other is the continual improvement of layer quality and optimum active layer design, taking technological parameters into consideration, which at the time of writing sported 63% wall-plug efficiency at an injection current of 350 mA for ∼1.1 mm × 1.1 mm LEDs, which translates to approximately 75% efficiency once the voltage (about 3 V) and phosphor conversion efficiencies are taken into account. Assuming the same extraction and external quantum efficiencies, one obtains about 86% for each. It would not be an exaggeration to conclude that mid 90% internal quantum efficiencies are very likely in play here, which means that the purported inherent problems dominating the discussion are practically reduced to an academic exercise. Despite aggravating factors involving holes and hetero-barriers, commercial LEDs almost invariably use multilayer hetero-structure designs for the active layers, loosely termed as multiple quantum wells, presumably to circumvent technological challenges and the ramifications of the polarization induced field even though double hetero-junction varieties could be preferable from the point of view of hole transport. Eventually, the real limiting factors are the extent of hole supply (can be mitigated by increased hole concentration, which is well known and continually explored) and the proverbial thermal wall (can be mitigated by increased efficiency and efficient heat removal) of course.

Full Text

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Avrutin, V; Hafiz, SA; Zhang, F; Özgür, Ü; Bellotti, E; Bertazzi, F; Goano, M; Matulionis, A; Roberts, AT; Everitt, HO; Morkoç, H

Published Date

  • January 1, 2014

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 38 / 3

Start / End Page

  • 269 - 313

Electronic International Standard Serial Number (EISSN)

  • 1303-6122

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 1300-0101

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

  • 10.3906/fiz-1407-23

Citation Source

  • Scopus