Ultra-low-power sub-photon-voltage high-efficiency light-emitting diodes


Conventional light-emitting diodes (LEDs) face an efficiency droop at low current due to non-radiative recombination overtaking radiative recombination at low carrier density. To overcome this universal problem, we develop LEDs with high efficiency at ultralow current and voltage, using a novel quantum well design and high-quality interfaces to suppress non-radiative recombination and enhance radiative recombination. The device exhibits close to unity internal quantum efficiency at a low current density of <1 × 10−4 A cm−2, more than three orders of magnitude lower than conventional LEDs. The LED bias voltage is reduced to ~30% below the photon voltage (/q). Wireless communication is demonstrated at these low-power conditions, which enables new applications in smart dust and sensor networks1,2,3,4,5,6, low-cost block chain and authentication7,8,9, medical applications10,11 and wherever high efficiency at low power is needed. New phenomena such as high-efficiency electroluminescent cooling becomes possible as the LED unity internal quantum efficiency extends to smaller voltage and current.

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Fig. 1: Structure and design of the LP-LED.
Fig. 2: LP-LED device performance.
Fig. 3: Data transmission performance at low current and voltage.
Fig. 4: Device packaging.

Data availability

The data that support the plots within this paper and other findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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The authors thank G. Shahidi for support and helpful discussions, K. Mukherjee for material growth at the beginning of this work and D. Kuchta, A. Paidimarri, C. Cabral Jr, C. Subramanian and D. Friedman for helpful discussions. Management support from M. Khare, D. Gil and the IBM Research Frontiers Institute is acknowledged.

Author information




N.L. conceived and designed the experiments. N.L., K.H. and Q.L. fabricated and characterized the devices. N.L. and K.H. analysed the data. W.S. grew the materials. K.H. performed TCAD simulation and BER testing. K.H., N.L. and S.B. carried out data transmission testing. N.L., S.B. and F.L. performed packaging. J.O. took the transmission electron microscopy images. M.H. carried out SIMS analysis. D.S. provided management support. N.L. and K.H. wrote the manuscript with input from all authors.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Ning Li.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains more information about the work and Supplementary Figs. 1–13.

Supplementary Video

Data transmission demo with text files sent from a computer through the low-power light-emitting diode to a smart phone at 100 kb s−1

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Li, N., Han, K., Spratt, W. et al. Ultra-low-power sub-photon-voltage high-efficiency light-emitting diodes. Nat. Photonics 13, 588–592 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41566-019-0463-x

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