News Article

Vertical Architecture Cranks Up UV Output

A partnership between Asif Khan’s group at the University of South Carolina and its spin-off, Nitek, claim to have developed ultra-violet LEDs with a record output for a single chip.

These thin-film devices that feature a vertical injection architecture deliver a continuous wave output of 5.5 mW at 280 nm. “We soon expect to double [the output power]", adds Khan.


The researchers’ effort will aid the development of ultra-violet LEDs that could replace mercury lamps for air, water, and food purification; for biomedical treatments; and for polymer curing. Fabrication of ultra-violet LEDs begins with the growth of a 0.3 μm thick AlN layer, a 10 period AlN/AlGaN superlattice and an active region with five quantum wells that is sandwiched between n-type and ptype layers. These layers are deposited on a sapphire substrate by a combination of pulsed atomic layer epitaxy and MOCVD.

Focusing an excimer laser through the substrate leads to dissociation at the AlN/sapphire interface. “The entire epilayer peels off from the sapphire substrate," explains Khan. A Ni/Au layer forms the LED’s pcontact, and the n-contact is added by first exposing the n-type AlGaN layer by reactive ion etching, before defining a Ti/Al grid on this surface.

An unsaturated, continuous-wave output of 5.5 mW was realized at a 250 mA drive current. This corresponds to a current density of 25 mA cm-2, a relatively low value that leads to minimal self-heating and thermal degradation. Light output is uniformly distributed over the emitting surface, thanks to the absence of current crowding.

No appreciable change in output power was observed when the device was driven at a current density of 25 mA cm-2 for 210 hours. Extrapolating the output power as a function of time led to an estimate of device lifetime of well over 2000 hours. “Our next series of improved devices are being put on lifetest, and we will keep measuring them for a few months to get the actual numbers, rather than extrapolations," explains Khan.

“Our next target is to monolithically combine these vertical LEDs, and see how much total power we can get." Other goals include the roughening of the n-type AlGaN layer, which could lead to a tripling of the chip’s output power, and an increase in the overall efficiency of electrical to optical conversion.

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Thanks to the great diversity of the semiconductor industry, we are always chasing new markets and developing a range of exciting technologies.

2021 is no different. Over the last few months interest in deep-UV LEDs has rocketed, due to its capability to disinfect and sanitise areas and combat Covid-19. We shall consider a roadmap for this device, along with technologies for boosting its output.

We shall also look at microLEDs, a display with many wonderful attributes, identifying processes for handling the mass transfer of tiny emitters that hold the key to commercialisation of this technology.

We shall also discuss electrification of transportation, underpinned by wide bandgap power electronics and supported by blue lasers that are ideal for processing copper.

Additional areas we will cover include the development of GaN ICs, to improve the reach of power electronics; the great strides that have been made with gallium oxide; and a look at new materials, such as cubic GaN and AlScN.

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