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Do Your LEDs Really Need a Heat Sink?

LEDs meet a wide variety of lighting and indication needs. In fact, with so many colors and sizes to choose from and the option to adapt brightness to specific purposes, they are practical in virtually any application.

Do Your LEDs Really Need a Heat Sink?
If your LEDs run at or above 350 mA, however, you’re bound to have a problem with the heat they generate and the damage it can cause.

The Truth About LEDs and Heat

Despite a decade of being touted as a cooler solution to light generation, LEDs still produce heat. Sometimes they produce a lot of heat. LEDs convert less than half their energy to visible photons (sometimes as little as 5 percent) to create light. The rest is generated as heat.

When thermal energy builds up inside their housing or packaging, the outcome can be catastrophic. The diode’s lumen and voltage outputs also decrease, drastically shortening their life span.

But now that the technology has been around for several decades, someone must have a solution to this problem. Right?

Why Today’s LEDs Still Generate Too Much Heat

Unfortunately, the cost of making these light-producing marvels remains high. So high, in fact, they the are off-putting for retail consumers. In manufacturing applications, they can drive unit costs past the point of practicality. So to bring the costs down to a palatable level, LED manufacturers sometimes cut corners that worsen the heat problem.

Newer applications use convection to cool larger bulbs, achieved by mounting LEDs on circuit boards rather than traditional metal towers. Others are experimenting with liquid cooling.

Some newer housing technologies — specifically electronics-grade ceramic and nanoceramic — can also help with thermal management, but not with price. Manufacturers have designed sealed packaging to protect the LEDs themselves from thermal damage. But the heat has to go somewhere, and that means you’ll still need a heat sink.

Resolving Overheating in LEDs with Heat Sinks

Fortunately, resolving the problem of overheating LEDs is a simple fix: using a heat sink to dissipate the excess thermal energy from inside the housing or packaging.

A heat sink can cool through radiation, conduction or convection. Copper is an ideal material choice for LED heat sinks, but its cost can be prohibitive. Aluminum and composite are also viable options. The finned-shape heat sink provides a maximum surface area for cooling. If you plan to have multiple LEDs in an enclosed space, however, you may wish to add a fan or another form of ventilation.

Kimball Electronics Inc. is the premier online electronics parts distributor. We also have convenient store locations in Boise, Idaho, and Salt Lake City, Utah.

You can browse our many available heat sink options here, as well as our full line of LEDs, with products available for any application you may require. Since 1921, we have been the leading distributor of electronics components in the Intermountain West. Trust us for all of your solutions for LED lighting and heat sinks.