What is an Ultra-Wide Bandgap (UWBG) Technology?

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Editorial Team - everything PE

Apr 1, 2024

Ultra-wide bandgap (UWBG) technology refers to the development and usage of semiconductor materials that have high wide bandgaps. Bandgap is a property of the semiconductor that determines the energy required to move electrons from the valence band to the conduction band, allowing them to conduct electricity. This material technology allows devices to operate at higher voltages, temperatures, and helps in switching frequencies. Most common UWBG materials are diamond, boron nitride (BN), gallium oxide (Ga2O3), and aluminum nitride (AlN).

Features of UWBG Semiconductors

  • Wide Bandgap: UWBG semiconductors have significantly larger bandgaps than traditional semiconductors, typically exceeding 3 eV. This wide bandgap equips them to withstand high voltages and temperatures making them the right choice for high power, high temperature, and high frequency applications.
  • High Breakdown Voltage: UWBG materials demonstrate high breakdown voltage enabling them to operate at high voltages without breakdown. This feature is very important for power electronics and high-voltage applications where the robustness and reliability of power devices are extremely crucial.
  • High Thermal Conductivity: Certain UWBG materials such as aluminum nitride (AlN) and diamond have high thermal conductivity, making it possible to operate at high temperatures and dissipate heat efficiently.  This property is advantageous in high-power applications that need thermal management. 
  • High Electron Mobility: UWBG semiconductors possess high electron mobility facilitating the fabrication of high-speed electronic devices with enhanced performance. Higher electron mobility leads to faster switching speeds and better device efficiency in high-power applications. 
  • Stability: UWBG materials are mechanically and chemically stable even at high temperatures. This makes them suitable to operate in harsh and extreme conditions. These materials thus find suitability in aerospace, automotive, and high-power industrial applications.
  • Miniaturization: The usage of UWBG materials enables the fabrication of compact and lightweight electronic devices with higher power density. Reduction in size and weight of electronic systems facilitates the integration of advanced functionalities into smaller form factors, making them suitable for applications with limited space or weight constraints.

UWBG Semiconductors

Aluminum Gallium Nitride (AlGaN): Aluminium gallium nitride is a UWBG semiconductor material that is an alloy of aluminum (Al), gallium (Ga), and nitrogen (N). The bandgap of AlGaN can be tuned by adjusting the composition of aluminum and gallium. This tunability allows the design of semiconductor devices with specific electronic properties, making AlGaN suitable for a wide range of high-power and high-frequency applications. It shares several properties of GaN and AlN and offers additional advantages due to its tuneable bandgap. Based on the content of aluminum, the wide bandgap of AlN ranges from 3.4 eV to 6.2 eV and makes it acceptable for high-power electronic devices.

Aluminum Nitride (AlN): Aluminum nitride is a UWBG semiconductor material with properties that make it suitable for various high-power and thermal management applications. The wide bandgap of AlN, typically in the range of 6 eV, allows AlN devices to operate at high voltage and temperature, exhibiting lower leakage current. It offers high thermal conductivity making it suitable for thermal management applications such as substrates for high-power electronic devices and heat sinks for ICs.   AlN provides a chemically stable structure making it ideal to be employed in harsh environments such as power electronics, automotive, and aerospace industries. AlN is used for the epitaxial growth of GaN films in GaN-based transistors. The lattice match between AlN and GaN helps in reducing the defects and thereby improves the quality of GaN films on the AlN substrate.

Cubic-Boron Nitride (c-BN): Cubic boron nitride (c-BN) is a synthetic crystalline material made up of boron and nitrogen atoms arranged in a cubic crystal lattice structure, analogous to the carbon atoms in diamond. This extremely hard material exhibits high thermal stability and can withstand temperatures up to 10000C in air and even higher temperatures in inert atmospheres.  The chemical inertness of c-BN makes it suitable to be used in harsh chemical environments. It has high lubricating properties, reducing friction and wear during cutting and machining processes. While cubic boron nitride itself is not a semiconductor material commonly used in high-power electronic systems, its unique properties make it valuable to be used as substrates, heat sinks, and insulating materials.

Gallium Trioxide (Ga2O3): Gallium Trioxide is a compound consisting of gallium and oxygen atoms. This oxide of gallium exists in several crystalline forms, out of which β- Ga2O3 is the most stable compound at room temperature. The other crystalline forms include monoclinic (α-Ga2O3) and cubic phases. This oxide has a wide bandgap ranging from 4.6 to 4.9 eV, depending on the crystalline form. This wide bandgap property makes it appropriate for high-power, optoelectronics, and ultraviolet (UV) photonics applications. The β- Ga2O3 has the highest electron mobility making it best suited for high-power electronics devices such as a field-effect transistor.

Diamond: Diamond is a UWBG material due to its exceptionally wide bandgap of 5.5 eV. This value of bandgap is for natural diamonds and can be even more for chemically synthesized diamonds. The wide bandgap of diamond allows it to withstand very high electric fields and makes it suitable for operation at high voltages and temperatures. The superior thermal conductivity of diamond enables efficient heat dissipation in electronic devices. It can withstand high voltages without electrical breakdown and is hence preferred in high-power electronic applications. Diamonds are chemically inert and mechanically robust enabling them to operate in harsh environmental conditions.

UWBG
Bandgap (eV)
Permittivity
Mobility (cm.sq/Vs)
Critical Electric Field (MV/cm)
BFOM (V.sq/Wcm.sq)
Thermal Conductivity (W/mK)
Gallium Trioxide
4.901015010.33630027
Diamond
5.505.72000135540003450
AIN
69.842615.4336000319
c-BN
6.407.182517.56950002145

Limitations of UWBG Technology

  • Material Availability: Some of the UWBG materials such as diamond and boron nitride are comparatively rare and expensive, Hence, large-scale production of electronic devices using high-quality UWBG material is a challenging task.
  • Complexity in Fabrication: Fabrication of UWBG semiconductor devices requires advanced manufacturing processes and expertise. The techniques for growing, processing, and doping UWBG materials are often complex and require specialized equipment. This increases the production costs and limits scalability.
  • Device Integration: Integration of UWBG materials with existing semiconductor technologies is challenging due to differences in crystal structures, thermal expansion coefficients, and processing requirements. Innovative solutions for device integration and packaging are needed to solve the compatibility issues that may arise when integrating UWBG devices with conventional silicon-based electronics.
  • Doping: UWBG materials need to be doped to control their electrical conductivity and carrier mobility. Its wide bandgap and inherent chemical stability pose a challenge to the doping process. Achieving reliable and reproducible doping profiles in UWBG materials is an ongoing research area, particularly for optimizing device performance and reliability.
  • Cost: UWBG materials and devices are relatively expensive to produce than traditional semiconductors, due to material costs and fabrication complexity. The advent of cost-effective production methods and scalable manufacturing processes is needed to reduce the cost barriers associated with UWBG technology.