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(Invited) AlGaN-Based PN Diodes for Power Electronics

Monday, 2 October 2017: 14:10
Chesapeake A (Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center)
A. A. Allerman, M. H. Crawford, G. W. Pickrell, A. M. Armstrong, R. J. Kaplar, J. R. Dickerson, B. Klein, M. P. King, and M. Van Heukelom (Sandia National Laboratories)
As the performance of GaN- and SiC-based power devices becomes limited by fundamental material properties, semiconductors with larger bandgaps are appealing due to their superior material properties. Most notable is that the critical electrical field scales as the bandgap to the 2.0-2.5 power. Thus, diodes employing wide bandgap semiconductors are expected to operate at higher breakdown voltages with thinner and more heavily-doped drift regions, leading to lower resistive losses. AlGaN alloys with their much larger bandgap compared to SiC and GaN are thus appealing for high voltage pn diodes and transistors. Additionally, the formation of AlGaN-based heterojunctions and the utilization of polarization fields offer design options not possible for devices based on materials such as SiC and diamond. Here we report on the growth and performance of pn diodes fabricated from Al0.30Ga0.70N (Eg=4.1eV) and Al0.74Ga0.26N (Eg=5.3eV) alloys, illustrating the potential for AlGaN alloys as a viable material for next-generation power diodes.

Quasi-vertical pn diodes consisting of Al0.30Ga0.70N epilayers were grown by metalorganic vapor phase epitaxy on 1.3 mm thick sapphire substrates. The added stiffness of such thick sapphire substrates (3x thicker than typical sapphire) reduces wafer bow and eliminates cracking in epitaxial structures up to 19 μm thick. Thick epitaxial structures are needed to achieve the > 4 microns thick drift layers necessary for multi-kilovolt breakdown voltages. A series of pn diode structures were grown where the thickness of the lightly doped drift layer (No = 2-5x1016 cm-3) was varied from 4.3 to 11 μm. All structures were completed with a 0.35 μm thick Mg-doped Al0.30Ga0.70N p-layer followed by a compositional grade to a p-GaN contact layer. Diodes employed a junction edge termination structure around the p-contact to reduce the peak electric field at the contact metal to avoid premature breakdown. Breakdown voltages from 1600 to 3000V were achieved in reverse bias and a forward turn-on voltage of 6 to 8 volts was recorded. To our knowledge, this is the first vertical AlGaN-based pn diode exhibiting a breakdown voltage in excess of 1 kilovolt. The differential specific on-resistance was higher than expected based on consideration of the drift region only (typically 16-20 mΩ-cm2), which is tentatively attributed to the resistance due to lateral current spreading in these front-contacted, quasi-vertical diodes. An effective critical electric field of 5.9 MV/cm was determined from the reverse current-voltage characteristics based on a punch-through, as dictated by the doping and thickness of the drift region.

We have also investigated quasi-vertical pn diodes consisting of Al0.74Ga0.26N epilayers to exploit the expected higher critical electric field in higher aluminum mole fraction alloys. These diodes consisted of 4.5 μm thick AlN epilayers grown on sapphire followed by a heavily doped n-type contact layer. Next a lightly doped (No = 2-4x1016 cm-3) 5 or 8 μm thick drift layer was grown. The combination of a thick AlN buffer and Al0.74Ga0.26N layers resulted in x-ray diffraction linewidths of 164-197 (237–284) arc seconds for the (0002) and (10-12) reflections for the drift layer, respectively. By optimizing the growth conditions used for the drift layer, the density of electron compensating defects can be reduced to ~ 1x1016 cm-3 — a level reported for GaN pn diodes. Unlike GaN diodes where drift layer doping at mid to low 1015 cm-3 is necessary for breakdown voltages of several kilovolts, the free electron concentration in these Al0.74Ga0.26N pn diodes is significantly higher than the level of compensation, making doping much easier to control and illustrating the benefit of higher critical electric field. The drift layer was followed by p-type AlGaN and finally a compositional grade to a p-GaN contact layer.

It is the p-AlGaN layer that is a significant challenge in Al-rich pn diodes. Unlike pn diodes based on Al0.30Ga0.70N epilayers, simple homojunction pn diodes are not practical in Al-rich AlGaN alloys due to the low hole concentration owing to the very deep (Ea > 400 meV) acceptor level. Consequently, other approaches must be considered for hole transport to the pn junction. We will report on the current-voltage characteristics of pn heterojunction diodes where a Mg-doped p-type Al0.30Ga0.70N layer is grown on the n-type Al0.74Ga0.26N drift layer. Additionally, the current-voltage characteristics of pn diodes where holes are generated in the p-region by field ionization of Mg acceptors will also be presented. Finally, practical pn diodes require specific on-resistance lower than what is inherent for front-contacted quasi-vertical device architectures grown on insulating substrates. We will report an approach that has realized vertically conducting AlGaN pn diodes employing AlGaN overgrowth on conducting GaN substrates.