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Connecting Theory and Practice in Optoelectronics
Auger recombination inside the light-emitting InGaN quantum wells (QWs) was recently identified as major cause of output power limitations in GaN-based blue light-emitting diodes (LEDs) which are the core of many modern light sources. In this electron-hole recombination process, the released energy is transferred to another carrier (electron or hole) without light emission. The Auger recombination rate rises strongly with the QW carrier density and therefore intensifies with stronger current injection into the LED.
In contrast to LEDs, GaN-based blue laser diodes are expected to suffer less from Auger recombination, based on the popular opinion that the QW carrier density does not rise with increasing current injection above lasing threshold. Shuji Nakamura, who received the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics for his pioneering work on GaN-LEDs, stated in his Nobel lecture that “Auger recombination, with the resulting efficiency droop, does not appreciably occur in blue laser diodes”. We dispute this claim based on our numerical analysis of high-power InGaN/GaN laser measurements.
Roughly four years ago researchers at the École Polytechnique and UCSB reported that III-Nitride (III-N) LEDs exhibit hot carrier effects in a strong correlation with the efficiency droop. These new measurements added fuel to the already actively ongoing discussion in the III-N LED device simulation community about the development of more accurate simulation models than the presently used quasi-equilibrium models. In particular, the measurements and subsequent works suggested that hot electrons and holes created in the process of Auger recombination might even affect the operating voltage of LEDs. However, full LED device simulations have so far lacked detailed models of hot carrier effects and primarily relied on drift and diffusion currents of carriers within the Fermi-Dirac distribution. Read more of this post
The energy efficiency is the fraction of the electrical input energy that is emitted as laser light. It is usually given as power conversion efficiency (PCE) and it is surprisingly low for GaN-based lasers. OSRAM just announced a record number of PCE=43% at SPIE Photonics West. This is certainly a remarkable achievement, considering the struggle to break the mysterious 40% limit. However, 43% is far below the record PCE of 84% reported for GaN LEDs. The inherently low hole conductivity and large series resistance on the p-doped side of GaN lasers are usually blamed for the efficiency deficit. However, the series resistance is known to shrink with rising temperature, which can be attributed to the increasing density of free holes in p-doped layers. Thus, one would expect that the PCE improves at elevated temperatures. But the OSRAM paper reported that the measured PCE drops with higher ambient temperature despite the shrinking series resistance. Ergo, there seems to be an even stronger loss mechanism involved.
One of the key rules of semiconductor laser physics relates to the carrier density inside the active layer. As long as I can remember, this rule states that the carrier density remains constant when the injection current rises above the lasing threshold. The reason lies in the stimulated emission of photons which consumes all additional carriers injected above threshold. The threshold carrier density delivers the threshold optical gain that compensates for the optical loss, which is usually not dependent on the injection current. Thus, the threshold carrier density should also remain constant. However, my recent analysis of high-power lasers yields different results (see picture). Read more of this post
Ever since Shuji Nakamura mentioned in his Nobel lecture in Stockholm that lasers are the future of lighting, I am puzzled by this claim, especially by the now widely circulated statement that laser diodes are free from efficiency droop. It suggests an advantageous energy efficiency of laser diodes, as shown in the last figure 17 of his lecture (which is actually invalidated by his own reference). If you are familiar with the much debated efficiency droop burdening GaN-LED lighting, you will agree that the underlying carrier loss mechanisms are also present in laser diodes. Even worse, laser diodes require a higher carrier density in the active layers and therefore exhibit stronger Auger recombination and possibly also electron leakage already at lasing threshold. Read more of this post