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Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Boosting LED Efficiency: Zinc Oxide Microwires Improve Performance of Light-Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

Georgia Institute of Technology
Oct 31, 2011
A light-emitting diode (LED) whose performance has been enhanced through the piezo-phototronic effect is studied in the laboratory of Regents professor Zhong Lin Wang. (Credit: Gary Meek)

Researchers have used zinc oxide microwires to significantly improve the efficiency at which gallium nitride light-emitting diodes (LED) convert electricity to ultraviolet light. The devices are believed to be the first LEDs whose performance has been enhanced by the creation of an electrical charge in a piezoelectric material using the piezo-phototronic effect.

By applying mechanical strain to the microwires, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology created a piezoelectric potential in the wires, and that potential was used to tune the charge transport and enhance carrier injection in the LEDs. This control of an optoelectronic device with piezoelectric potential, known as piezo-phototronics, represents another example of how materials that have both piezoelectric and semiconducting properties can be controlled mechanically.

“By utilizing this effect, we can enhance the external efficiency of these devices by a factor of more than four times, up to eight percent,” said Zhong Lin Wang, a Regents professor in the Georgia Tech School of Materials Science and Engineering. “From a practical standpoint, this new effect could have many impacts for electro-optical processes – including improvements in the energy efficiency of lighting devices.”

Details of the research were reported in the Sept. 14 issue of the journal Nano Letters. The research was sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). In addition to Wang, the research team mainly included Qing Yang, a visiting scientist at Georgia Tech from the Department of Optical Engineering at Zhejiang University in China.

Because of the polarization of ions in the crystals of piezoelectric materials such as zinc oxide, mechanically compressing or otherwise straining structures made from the materials creates a piezoelectric potential – an electrical charge. In the gallium nitride LEDs, the researchers used the local piezoelectric potential to tune the charge transport at the p-n junction.

The effect was to increase the rate at which electrons and holes recombined to generate photons, enhancing the external efficiency of the device through improved light emission and higher injection current. “The effect of the piezo potential on the transport behavior of charge carriers is significant due to its modification of the band structure at the junction,” Wang explained.

The zinc oxide wires form the “n” component of a p-n junction, with the gallium nitride thin film providing the “p” component. Free carriers were trapped at this interface region in a channel created by the piezoelectric charge formed by compressing the wires.
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