Junction Based Gallium Nitride Power Devices

TR Number
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Virginia Tech

Power electronics plays an important role in many energy conversion applications in modern society including consumer electronics, data centers, electric vehicles, and power grids, etc. The key components of power electronic circuits are power semiconductor devices including diodes and transistors, which determine the performance of power electronics circuits. Traditional power devices are based on the semiconductor silicon (Si), which have already reached the silicon's material limit. Gallium nitride (GaN) is a wide bandgap semiconductor with high electron mobility and high critical electric field. GaN-based power devices promise superior device performance over the Si-based counterpart. The primary design target of a unipolar power device is to achieve low on-resistance and high breakdown voltage. Although GaN high electron mobility transistor (HEMT) is commercially available in a voltage class from 15 V to 900 V, the performance of GaN devices is still far below the GaN material limit, due to several reasons: 1) To achieve the normally-off operation in a GaN HEMT, the density of two-dimensional electron gas (2DEG) channel cannot be too high; this limits the on-resistance reduction in the access region. 2) The gate capacitance of GaN HEMT is usually low so that the carrier concentration in the channel underneath the gate is relatively low, limiting the on-resistance reduction in the gated channel region. 3) The electric-field distribution in the drift region is not uniform, resulting in a limited breakdown voltage. We proposed to use the junction-based structure in GaN power devices to address the above problems and fully exploit GaN's material properties. The first part of this dissertation characterizes nickel oxide (NiO) as a p-type material to construct the junction-based GaN power devices. Although the homogenous p-GaN/n-GaN junction is preferred in many devices, the selective-area, p-GaN regrowth can lead to excessive leakage current; in comparison, the p-NiO/n-GaN junction is stable without leakage. This section describes the optimization of NiO deposition as well as the NiO characterization. Although acceptor in NiO is not generated by impurity doping, the acceptor concentration modulation is realized by tuning the O2 partial pressure during the sputtering process. Practical breakdown electric field is also characterized and confirmed to be higher than GaN. These results provide the design guidelines for NiO-GaN junction-based power devices. The second part of this dissertation demonstrates the 3D NiO-GaN junction gate to improve the GaN HEMT's on-resistance. The 3D junction gate structure enables a high carrier concentration under the gate region in the device on-state. Meanwhile, the strong depletion effect of the junction-based gate allows for a robust normally-off operation; as a result, the GaN wafer with a higher 2DEG concentration can be used to achieve both normally-off and low on-state resistance in HEMT devices. Simulation is also performed to project the performance space of trigate GaN junction HEMTs using the p-GaN instead of NiO. The third part of this dissertation presents the application of the p-GaN/n-GaN junction in the drift region of the multi-channel lateral devices to achieve the high breakdown voltage. Here p-GaN is grown in-situ with the multi-channel AlGaN/GaN structure, and there is no leakage problem. The structure is designed to achieve charge balance between the acceptor in p-GaN and the net donor in the multichannel AlGaN/GaN. This design enables a uniform electric field distribution and breakdown voltage over 10 kV. The fourth part of this dissertation presents the application of the p-NiO/n-GaN junction in vertical superjunction (SJ) devices. We show the design and simulation of this heterojunction structure in a SJ and confirm the uniform electric field and high breakdown voltage under the charge balance. Then the device fabrication is presented in detail, which mainly comprises the deep GaN trench etch, NiO self-aligned lift off, and photoresist trench planarization. The optimized device shows a trade-off between its drift region specific on-resistance versus breakdown that exceeds the 1D GaN's limit. The last part of this dissertation is exploring the design and fabrication of p-GaN/n-GaN based SJ devices. First, the challenges in p-GaN regrowth especially the introduction of interface impurities are discussed, followed by device simulation and modeling to optimize the SJ performance considering these interface impurities. The activation of regrown p-GaN in deep trenches is more difficult than planar p-GaN, and we present the characterization and physical model for the activation of the deep buried p-GaN. Last, the results of p-GaN filling regrowth and the acceptor concentration calibration in the lightly doped p-GaN are presented and discussed. In summary, our work combines experimental device fabrication and characterization, TCAD simulation, and device modeling to demonstrate the benefit of multi-dimensional, junction-based GaN power devices as compared to the traditional GaN power devices. The junction-based structure at gate region can provides stable normally-off operation and low on-resistance. When being applied to the drift region, the multidimensional junction structure can push the device specific on-resistance versus breakdown voltage trade-off near or even exceeding the material limit. These results will advance the performance and application spaces of GaN power devices.

Power electronics, power semiconductor devices, wide bandgap, gallium nitride, p-n junction, tri-gate, FinFET, Superjunction, high electron mobility transistor