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What Is an IR Photodiode?

By Benjamin Arie
Updated May 16, 2024
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An IR photodiode is an electrical component that converts light into electricity. This type of component is specifically designed to respond to light in the infrared range. Communications, sensors, and security are three applications that often use them.

All photodiodes use the photoelectric effect to generate electrical current from light. When photons of light hit the surface of a diode, electrons are "knocked" out of place. A charge occurs when the electron is moved. Continuous exposure of a photodiode to light will create a constant flow of electricity. The amount of current corresponds to the amount of light hitting the surface of the diode.

Standard photodiodes create electricity in response to visible light. An IR photodiode uses an infrared filter to block visible light, and allow only IR wavelengths of light to pass. This reduces the level of interference from background light, and ensures that current is generated only when infrared light is present. An IR photodiode is technically able to generate continuous electricity by being exposed to infrared light.

Most of these components, however, are not used to generate power but rather to sense when an infrared signal is received. This is useful for remote communication. Televisions, for instance, often use infrared photodiodes to detect when a button is pressed on a remote control. The IR filter helps ensure that sunlight does not interfere with this control. IR photodiodes can also be paired with infrared lasers. This allows communication signals to sent though the air and be detected over very long distances.

IR photodiodes are also useful as sensors in robotics and security applications. Mobile robots often combine a photodiode with an infrared light emitting diode (LED). Infrared light from the LED is invisible to the human eye, but reflects off of solid objects such as walls. When a robot approaches an object, the IR photodiode detects the reflection of infrared light. This allows the robot to stop before hitting a wall or other object.

Security systems use these components to detect intruders. In this application, the invisible nature of infrared light can be a significant advantage. An IR light source can be placed on one side of a doorway or room, with a IR photodiode located on the opposite side. The diode is able to detect the constant beam of infrared light, while intruders cannot see the sensor. If somebody enters the room and breaks the IR beam, the alarm is activated.

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Discussion Comments
By anon952312 — On May 20, 2014

Notice where the article says that "an IR photodiode uses an infrared filter to block visible light" (and that's the difference between standard PD and IR PD)

Also, you have to know that the current that is produced is μA (due to reverse bias) and thus the best implementation of a photodiode is that of the optical detector.

Solar panels, on the other hand is something completely different...unlikely LEDs and photodiodes, solar panels use forward voltage and reverse current.

I study electronic engineering in the Technological Educational Institute of Athens (T.E.I.) and this is an assignment due tomorrow.

By Jacques6 — On Sep 02, 2011

@zeak4hands - As far as I know, IR photodiodes have are different from the photodiodes used in solar panels. Solar panels are very limited in how much power they can produce and they use large area photodiodes. Same technology, but on a different scale.

There must be a good reason why scientists haven't used IR photodiodes for solar power. The large area photodiodes that solar panels use are better for gathering energy, but I guess they add a limit.

I'm not a scientist either, but I think you're right -- IR photodiodes have green energy potential.

By zeak4hands — On Sep 01, 2011

If IR photodiode receivers produce constant electricity from light -- could they be used to make solar generators or something? Are they already used in solar generators? I know that IR photodiode sensors are usually just used for TV remotes, but there must be some way scientist can harness that power.

There has to be a better use for this amazing technology. You don't have to be a scientist to see the missed potential here – but I really hope that some scientists work on this in the near future, with the energy crunch and all. Especially since it's limitless and clean green energy.

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