Learn How LEDs Work and Why They’re Amazing

Not since Thomas Edison introduced the world to his incandescent light bulb in 1879 has there been such a revolution in lighting. Within the lighting industry, LEDs or light emitting diodes are making strides in technological advancement. LEDs are small, solid light bulbs which are proving to be extremely energy efficient and long-lasting. LED light bulbs operate far differently from the normal incandescent light bulbs available. LED lights are far more robust with a higher durability over the standard light bulbs.

The advantages of LED technology offer many more advantages over the typical incandescent, neon and fluorescent lighting devices, such as a longer lifespan up to 60,000 hours, extremely lower energy consumption at around 90% efficiency, lower maintenance costs and higher safety overall, and they can be used in most any place. We see below how amazingly LEDs have been inserted into the shoes to give off a cool glowing effect.

Shoe LED at night skateboarding

What is an LED light?

An LED light is an extremely small semiconductor diode that is capable of creating a light source. The LED can create light in many different colors including ultraviolet and infrared. The light that the LED creates is dependant on the type of material that is used to make the semiconductor and the electrical current that runs through the LED. There are, in fact, many types of LED light bulbs available, from miniature sized to high powered LEDs and LEDs capable of being multicolored.

Who invented the LED?

In the early 1960’s there was much research being done on semiconductors. Gallium arsenide and germanium were amongst some of the first semiconductors developed before the use of silicon which became the preferred material in the industry. These devices were being developed as diodes since they can pass an electrical current in one direction only. It was during this time of research and development that the LED was discovered by James R Biard and Gary Pittman, although the light it emitted was not visible to the naked eye.

In 1962 an engineer by the name of Nick Holonyack invented the first LED. Holonyack’s LED was red and he had used gallium arsenide phosphide for the diode he created.

In 1972 an engineer by the name of M George Craford invented the first yellow LED using gallium arsenide phosphide in the diode. Subsequently, Craford also invented a red LED that was ten times brighter than the LED created by Nick Holonyack.

1976 saw Thomas Pearsall inventing a highly efficient and very bright LED used in fiber optics and telecommunications.

In 1994, Shuji Nakamura developed the very first blue LED.

How does an LED light work?

LED light bulbs work similarly to standard light bulbs except for the fact that they are much smaller and do not contain the filament of the standard light bulbs. Instead of a burning or glowing filament, the LED creates its light using nothing but the movement of electricity along the path of its semiconductor. As electrons stream across the semiconductor, they create electromagnetic radiation. Certain forms of the electromagnetic radiation can take the form of visible light which the human eye can perceive.

Different colors of LEDs

Within the semiconductor materials of the LED, the electrons are contained inside energy bands. The band gaps determine the energy of the photons that are emitted by the LED. The energy determines the wavelength of the light which in turn affects the color. The different semiconductor materials with different band gaps produce different colors of light. Up to the middle of the 1990’s LEDs had had a limited range of colors, the blue and white LEDs common today did not exist at the time. The development of LEDs using gallium nitride materials completed the palette of colors we see today and opened up the LED for a wide range of new applications.

Colorful fun flower LEDs

Most common LED materials

  • Indium gallium nitride  –  blue, green and ultraviolet high-brightness LEDs
  • Aluminum gallium indium phosphide – yellow, orange and red high-brightness LEDs
  • Aluminum gallium arsenide – red and infrared LEDs
  • Gallium phosphide – yellow and green LEDs

The benefits of LEDs

#1 Life expectancy

LED light bulbs are a solid state light source and as such are very robust and have very long lifetimes. The standard incandescent light bulb has an expected lifetime of approximately 1000 hours, whereas the LED light bulb can have a life expectancy of 60,000 hours and above. It must be stated however that LED light bulbs do degrade over time and the lifetime hours can be affected by the operating current and the temperature they are exposed to. In the comparison table below, we see the great superiority of LEDs, and how much longer they last compared to regular lights.

LED life expectancy comparison

#2 Very low maintenance

Because of the long lifetime of the LEDs the need to replace any failed bulbs is significantly reduced, leading to increased savings over time. The long lifetime associated with the LED light bulb also means that they can be installed in some fairly inaccessible locations.

#3 Highly efficient

LED light bulbs are a highly efficient source of light. White LEDs of 25 watts and above are available and these far exceed the performance of the standard incandescent light bulb and some of the available fluorescent lights. Due to the directional nature of the light being produced by the LEDs, the application of which they are used adds to their overall efficiency. Their great efficiency is illustrated below, with fluorescent lighting coming at a distant second.

LED efficiency comparison

#4 Very low power consumption

LEDs have very low power consumption and this leads to very significant energy savings over time. The installation of LED-based lighting systems such as traffic lights has been adopted by many countries around the world. The potential energy savings associated with the use of LEDs cannot be overlooked and will have a huge impact on the environment.

#5 LEDs do produce very little heat

Standard incandescent light bulbs produce a lot of heat in the form of infrared radiation making them hot to touch. The absence of infrared radiation from the LED allows them to be installed in locations where heat from a standard light bulb may have adverse effects, such as the illumination of foods or certain textiles. LEDs do produce heat at the semiconductor level, and without efficient heat sinking this can cause a rise in temperature of the LED leading to permanent damage.

We see below how little heat is outputted from LEDs, which makes them very safe to use in most every application.

LED heat loss percentage comparison

#6 Cost factors

Depending on the application, LED lighting can be more expensive than conventional light sources. The manufacturers of LED light bulbs are constantly working towards reducing manufacturing costs whilst simultaneously trying to increase the brightness of the LEDs. Although the LEDs may be initially seen as being expensive, the low power consumption and maintenance costs can be seen to offset the initial costs.

#7 LEDs have a small form factor

LEDs are in general very small, a typical LED chip measures approximately 0.3mm x 0.3mm in size while the more powerful LEDs can be 1mm x 1mm or larger. A few examples of small but bright LEDs are in cell phones and other mobile devices and handsets where the blue, green and white LEDs are used in models to backlight the LCD (liquid crystal display) or keypads.

#8 Immediate power on

Under most temperature conditions LEDs switch on immediately, because of this there are certain applications where this has a distinct advantage, for instance, the brake lights of a motor vehicle.

#9 Impact on environment

LED light bulbs do not contain any mercury and in many cases, the manufacturers are taking steps to eliminate the use of lead-containing solders used to fix the LEDs to the circuit boards and replace them with lead-free soldering materials. As the LEDs are highly energy efficient it also makes them an environmentally friendly alternative.

What applications are LEDs used for?

With the recent technological advancements of the LED, limitless possibilities and applications for the LED light bulb have opened. Here are some of the more common ones. With their application in the world of electronics, we see them being used in screen displays, computers, traffic lights, brake lights on vehicles and other applications which need a bright, cost-effective and long lasting light. LED lighting is also being used in residential lighting, aerospace technologies, architectural lighting, the automotive industry, aviation, broadcasting, electronic instrumentation, entertainment, gaming, industrial automation, and the military.

Dining Room Tables –  LEDs can be built right into your dining room table, or if you are a DIY enthusiast you can purchase kits. There are LED tablecloths and placements available to add a unique glow at the next dinner party.

Centerpieces – Installing colored LED lights into your centerpieces can add a warm atmosphere to any occasion you may have in your home. Waterproof LEDs can be added to champagne glasses and strips of LED lighting can be worked in and around flower arrangements.

Accent lighting – Used on stairs, LED accent lighting can be a very effective way to light up the house at night. The flexibility of LED lighting means that they can be installed just about anywhere within the home or outside.

Colorful LED bike park

Water taps and showerheads – You can add LEDs to kitchen or bathroom taps to give them a unique appearance. Installing an LED showerhead that can produce bright blue colors is a real talking point. Some showerheads available have heat sensors installed in them which change color according to the water temperature, which is quite handy.

Wallpaper – LED walls are quite a common sight these days and people have been setting these LED walls for some time now. There is now an LED wallpaper available in assorted styles from hi-tech to more subtle designs. One of the new trends in LED lighting is the LED wave projector which drapes your walls in cool blue shades.

Bicycle wheels – LEDs have been incorporated into many types of sporting equipment like skateboards, surfboards, and even snowboarding kits. There are businesses that specialize in the manufacture of LED strips for bicycles. This has advantages at night due to the bicycle being clearly visible and adding to the safety factor.

Umbrellas – The installation or purchase of LED umbrellas can help you to be visible in low light conditions or at night while crossing the street. There are many different umbrella options available on the market, and there are DIY kits available as well in order to create your own unique umbrella.

Umbrella LED standing at night

Animal collars and harnesses – Keeping your dog visible in the evenings when you take them for a walk is no longer an issue. There are LED harnesses, leashes, and collars available. They are lightweight, waterproof and, as they use LED lights, they are long-lasting.

LED doormats – Welcome people to your home with an LED doormat, where you can even have a custom message displayed. They are waterproof and crush resistant. Christmas and Halloween themes are an option.

Toilet seats – An illuminated toilet seat is easy to see if you need to get up at night for a visit. Disturbing your significant other will be a thing of the past. The LED toilet comes in many different designs including a night scene.

LED illuminated wine racks – As LED light bulbs do not generate heat which could damage the wine, the illuminated wine rack has proven rather useful for those who have their collections in the cellar of the home. They are available in different designs.

LED Balloons – Due to the LED lights being small in size and not giving off any heat, colorful LEDs can be installed into balloons for a child’s birthday party or other festive occasions. Flashing lights and different colors add to the appeal.

Plant Pots – LED lights have many ways they can add color to your garden; you can install solar-powered edging lights which illuminate after dark, or you can use LED plant pots. These are available in different shapes, sizes and in a range of colors, and you can even get plant pot LEDs which continuously change color.

LED beautiful landscape with flowers

Therapy – There is some debate whether or not this is really effective, but there are some skin care applications which utilize LED lights. They are also being used for pain relief and to accelerate the healing process of certain injuries.

There you have it

As can be seen the technological advancements in LED development has opened up lighting and decorations that were only dreamed of a few decades ago. LED light bulbs are found everywhere today in shopping centers, motor vehicles, street signs, etc., and have become firmly entrenched in every facet of our lives. The fact that they use up to 90 percent less energy than a standard incandescent light bulb can only have far-reaching benefits on the environment.

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