Happy new year - and LED lighting

| | Comments (0) | TrackBacks (0)

Happy new year! A new decade!
I've been playing with LEDs for my EV and robotics projects. It doesn't seem to make sense to use incandescent bulbs in an EV build -- it'd ruin the whole concept of going green.

LEDs are tricky to deal with though, especially the high-output "star" type LEDs that are emerging. Rather than voltage regulation, you have to regulate the amount of current that goes through them. This isn't fixed, because as an LED heats up, its resistance goes down (unlike an incandescent filament whose resistance goes up as it heats up, thus self-regulating). If it gets too hot, it goes into thermal runaway and you soon have what ledophiles call a Dark Emitting Diode (DED) -- dead, get it?.

So, you need some form of a current regulating system. For small 3mm or 5mm LEDs, people just use a fixed resistor since the current demand is rather small, around 20 ma. This limits the maximum current that can go through -- but it also limits the max brightness because you have to put in a safety factor and you can't easily adjust for fluctuating voltage.

Here's a good javascript calculator for series/parallel LED resistors:


The problem with 5mm LEDs is that the clear plastic casing limits the amount of heat that the LED can output (and yes, LEDs do produce waste heat, although not as much as incandescent lights). Heat control is one of the main factors affecting the output of LEDs and the reason why manufacturers went to the star configuration, which allows you to directly back the LED with a heatsink -- which lets the LED current jump from 20 mA to 350 mA with a concomitant light output.

WhiteLED-Cree.gifNow, if you want to use a high output Luxeon or Cree star, you also have to current regulate as mentioned before. The typical white high-output LED takes 350 ma with a forward voltage drop of 3.5 volts. With a light output of 120 lumens, this is good enough for a moped, scooter or bicycle headlight.

Cree even has a high-power star that consists of four of their 120 lumen LEDs mounted on a single die. This produces 480 lumens, although you'll need to regulate four x 350 ma. There are other stars that bundle 2 x 120 or 3 x 120 lumen LEDs. More than enough to blind you -- or for a car or motorbike headlamp.

For high power LEDs, the LM317 seems a good choice for current regulating at a low cost. Here's a good javascript calculator for that:


and some more info on why current regulation is necessary:



This is also a good primer on LED lighting:


And (somewhat randomly) a rusty nail LED driver circuit: http://www.cappels.org/dproj/ledpage/leddrv.htm

0 TrackBacks

Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Happy new year - and LED lighting.

TrackBack URL for this entry: http://www.photoethnography.com/cgi-bin/mt/mt-tb.cgi/834

Leave a comment

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Karen Nakamura published on January 1, 2010 1:36 PM.

Electric vehicle power and efficiency calculations was the previous entry in this blog.

Favorite electronics mags is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.