A photodiode is a semiconductor device that converts light into current. The current is generated when photons are absorbed in the photodiode. A small amount of current is also produced when no light is present. Photodiodes may contain optical filters, built-in lenses, and may have large or small surface areas. Photodiodes usually have a slower response time as its surface area increases. The common, traditional solar cell used to generate electric solar power is a large area photodiode.
Photodiodes are similar to regular semiconductor diodes except that they may be either exposed (to detect vacuum UV or X-rays) or packaged with a window or optical fiber connection to allow light to reach the sensitive part of the device. Many diodes designed for use specifically as a photodiode use a PIN junction rather than a p-n junction, to increase the speed of response. A photodiode is designed to operate in reverse bias.
Principle of operation
A photodiode is a p-n junction or PIN structure. When a photon of sufficient energy strikes the diode, it creates an electron-hole pair. This mechanism is also known as the inner photoelectric effect. If the absorption occurs in the junction’s depletion region, or one diffusion length away from it, these carriers are swept from the junction by the built-in electric field of the depletion region. Thus holes move toward the anode, and electrons toward the cathode, and a photocurrent is produced. The total current through the photodiode is the sum of the dark current (current that is generated in the absence of light) and the photocurrent, so the dark current must be minimized to maximize the sensitivity of the device.
Materials commonly used to produce photodiodes include:
wavelength range (nm)
|Indium gallium arsenide||800–2600|
|Mercury cadmium telluride||400–14000|
Because of their greater bandgap, silicon-based photodiodes generate less noise than germanium-based photodiodes.