imec, AIXTRON Pave the Way for Use of GaN-Based Power Applications in SiC High Voltage Domain

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imec and AIXTRON have demonstrated epitaxial growth of Gallium nitride (GaN) buffer layers qualified for 1200 V applications on 200 mm QST substrates, with a hard breakdown exceeding 1800 V. The manufacturability of 1200 V qualified buffer layers opens doors to highest voltage GaN-based power applications such as electric cars, previously only feasible with silicon-carbide (SiC)-based technology. The result comes after the successful qualification of AIXTRON G5+ C fully automated Metal-Organic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD) reactor at imec, Belgium, for integrating the optimized material epi-stack.

Wide-bandgap materials Gallium nitride (GaN) and Silicon carbide (SiC) have proved their value as next-generation semiconductors for power-demanding applications where silicon (Si) falls short. SiC-based technology is the most mature, but it is also more expensive. Over the years tremendous progress has been made with GaN-based technology grown on for example 200 mm Si wafers. At imec, qualified enhancement mode high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs) and Schottky diode power devices have been demonstrated for 100 V, 200 V and 650 V operating voltage ranges, paving the way for high-volume manufacturing applications. However, achieving operating voltages higher than 650 V has been challenged by the difficulty of growing thick-enough GaN buffer layers on 200 mm wafers. Therefore, SiC so far remains the semiconductor of choice for 650-1200 V applications – including for example electric cars and renewable energy.

For the first time, imec and AIXTRON have demonstrated epitaxial growth of GaN buffer layers qualified for 1200 V applications on 200 mm QST (in SEMI standard thickness) substrates at 25 °C and 150 °C, with a hard breakdown exceeding 1800 V. Denis Marcon, Senior Business Development Manager at imec, said “GaN can now become the technology of choice for a whole range of operating voltages from 20 to 1200 V. Being processable on larger wafers in high-throughput CMOS fabs, power technology based on GaN offers a significant cost advantage compared to the intrinsically expensive SiC-based technology.”

Key to achieving the high breakdown voltage is the careful engineering of the complex epitaxial material stack in combination with the use of 200 mm QST substrates, executed in scope of the IIAP program The CMOS-fab friendly QST substrates from Qromis have a thermal expansion that closely matches the thermal expansion of the GaN/AlGaN epitaxial layers, paving the way for thicker buffer layers – and hence higher voltage operation.

Dr Felix Grawert, CEO and President of AIXTRON, said “The successful development of imec’s 1200 V GaN-on-QST epi-technology into AIXTRON’s MOCVD reactor is a next step in our collaboration with imec. Earlier, after having installed AIXTRON G5+C at imec’s facilities, imec’s proprietary 200 mm GaN-on-Si materials technology was qualified on our G5+ C high-volume manufacturing platform, targeting for example high-voltage power switching and RF applications and enabling our customer to achieve a rapid production ramp-up by pre-validated available epi-recipes. With this new achievement, we will be able to jointly tap into new markets.” Currently, lateral e-mode devices are being processed to prove device performance at 1200 V, and efforts are ongoing to extend the technology towards even higher voltage applications. Next to this, imec is also exploring 8-inch GaN-on-QST vertical GaN devices to further extend the voltage and current range of GaN-based technology.

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