You are on page 1of 6

Drift and diffusion currents :-

→ The flow of charge (ie) current through a semiconductor

material are of two types namely drift & diffusion.
→ (ie) The net current that flows through a (PN junction
diode) semiconductor material has two components
(i) Drift current
(ii) Diffusion current

Drift current :-

(a) Exess hole concentration varying along the axis in an N-type semiconductor bar
(b) The resulting diffusion current
→ When an electric field is applied across the semiconductor
material, the charge carriers attain a certain drift velocity Vd ,
which is equal to the product of the mobility of the charge carriers
and the applied Electric Field intensity E ;

Drift velocity Vd = mobility of the charge carriers X Applied

Electric field intensity.
→ Holes move towards the negative terminal of the battery
and electrons move towards the positive terminal of the battery.
This combined effect of movement of the charge carriers
constitutes a current known as “ the drift current “ .

→ Thus the drift current is defined as the flow of electric

current due to the motion of the charge carriers under the influence
of an external electric field.

→ Drift current due to the charge carriers such as free

electrons and holes are the current passing through a square
centimeter perpendicular to the direction of flow.

(i) Drift current density Jn , due to free

electrons is given by
Jn = q n μn E A / cm2
(ii) Drift current density JP, due to holes is
given by
JP = q p μp E A / cm2

Where, n - Number of free electrons per cubic centimeter.

P - Number of holes per cubic centimeter
μ n – Mobility of electrons in cm2 / Vs
μ p – Mobility of holes in cm2 / Vs
E – Applied Electric filed Intensity in V /cm
q – Charge of an electron = 1.6 x 10-19 coulomb.

Diffusion current :-
→ It is possible for an electric current to flow in a
semiconductor even in the absence of the applied voltage provided
a concentration gradient exists in the material.
→ A concentration gradient exists if the number of either
elements or holes is greater in one region of a semiconductor as
compared to the rest of the Region.
→ In a semiconductor material the change carriers have the
tendency to move from the region of higher concentration to that
of lower concentration of the same type of charge carriers. Thus
the movement of charge carriers takes place resulting in a current
called diffusion current.

Carrier Actions
What Actions? Definitions Drift Current Diffusion Current
Mobility & Scattering What causes band bending?
Recombination Generation Let's Draw! Related Topics

Diffusion Current

Diffusion is the process of particles distributing themselves from regions of high

concentration to regions of low concentration. If this process is left unperturbed, there
will eventually be a uniform distribution of particles. Diffusion does not need external
forces to act upon a group of particles. The particles move about using only thermal
motion. If we let the particles be carriers, so as they move around they take charge with
them. The moving of charge will result in a current. We call this current due to diffusion.

The difference between drift current and diffusion current is that drift current depends on
the electric field applied: if there's no electric field, there's no drift current. Diffusion
current occurs even though there isn't an electric field applied to the semiconductor. It
does not have E as one of its parameters. The constants it does depend on are Dp and Dn,
and +q and -q, for holes and electrons respectively. The first constants are called the
diffusion coefficients, a proportionality factor. We don't worry too much about these
because they are constants. We do worry about the gradient of the concentration of p
and/or n, though. But, since we are talking about a one dimensional situation when we are
solving for current densities, we only worry about the gradient (or derivative) with
respect to the x-plane.
The other difference between drift current and diffusion current, is that the direction of
the diffusion current depends on the change in the carrier concentrations, not the
concentrations themselves. In the equation, the signs are reversed as we are used to
seeing them. We usually assign a +q to holes and -q to electrons. In the case of diffusion
current, they are reversed to be opposite of the derivative of the concentrations. This
occurs because the carriers are diffusing from areas of high concentrations to areas of low

For example, if the derivative of p with respect to x is positive, then the concentration of
holes is growing as you move towards the +x direction. Diffusion current will be the
opposite of that, the holes will be diffusing in the -x direction to where there's a lower
concentration of holes. If the derivative is negative, the opposite will occur. The
concentration of holes is decreasing as you go from the -x to +x direction. Therefore,
holes will diffuse to the +x direction where there's a lower concentration of holes. This is
why the negative sign is needed in the equation for the hole diffusion current.

The same goes for electrons, but in this case, the signs cancel for a positive derivative
because the electrons, carrying -q, diffuse to the -x direction where there's less electrons.
The sign remains if the derivative is negative, because electrons will be diffusing to the
+x direction carrying a -q charge. For these reasons it's not included in the equation for
the electron diffusion current.

Both drift current and diffusion current make up the total current in a semiconductor.
They may not be occurring at the same time, but the equation is still valid. Under
equilibrium conditions, the current density should be zero because there shouldn't be any
drastic changes occurring, like applying an electric field or changing the carrier
concentrations by a large margin. Even so, if the doping is not completely uniform, there
will be a change in concentration is some places in the semiconductor, resulting in a
gradient. This gradient can in turn give rise to an electric field, which in turn can give rise
to non-zero current densities.

Drift Current

Drift is, by definition, charged particle motion in response to an applied electric field.
When an electric field is applied across a semiconductor, the carriers start moving,
producing a current. The positively charged holes move with the electric field, whereas
the negatively charged electrons move against the electric field. The motion of each
carrier can be described as a constant drift velocity, vd. This constant takes into
consideration the collisions and setbacks each carrier has while moving from one place to
another. It is considered a constant though, because the carriers will eventually go the
direction they are supposed to go regardless of any setbacks, especially if you look at the
direction of all the carriers, instead of each one individually.

Drift current in a semiconductor is the resultant of carrier drift. Because we are talking
about a semiconductor, or specific areas in a semiconductor, we are interested in the
current density. When dealing with drift current, we are interested in the current density
due to drift, and drift arises in response to an electric field. Drift current also depends on
the ability of the carriers to move around in the semiconductor, or the electron and hole
mobility. Another parameter drift current depends on is the carrier concentration, because
you have to have carriers in order for there to be current. Each one of these carriers has a
charge, but in this case we will only take q as a magnitude.

Finally, we have that the current density due to drift depends on four parameters: the
electric field, the electron or hole concentration, the mobility constant, and the charge.
The reason we use q for both electrons and holes when it's +q for holes and -q for
electrons, is that the electric field takes care of the sign, or direction of the current. When
a negative electric field is applied, the electrons will go opposite the electric field. The
electron charge is -q, so the resulting electron drift current will be positive. On the other
hand, when the electric field is negative, the holes will go the direction of the electric
field. Their charge is +q, so the resulting hole drift current will be negative. Vice versa
when the electric field is positive.

Take a look at the demo for the electric field. To run the demo properly, you need
Shockwave installed for your browser. Also, for better viewing, use the "full screen"
option on your browser. To return to this page, you'll need to use the browser's "back"

On the demo, if you click on "semiconductor" a potential will be applied, creating an

electric field. You can see how the electron does not travel in a straight line, but it makes
it to the other end eventually. This is an example of drift current. If you see the demo by
clicking on "free space", there isn't anything for the electron to bump into in free space,
so it travels in a straight line.