Combining graphene and nitrides for high-power, high-frequency electronics
Graphene Flagship partnering project GraNiTe exploited graphene and layered materials to enhance transistors for communications, diagnostics and security
Researchers at Graphene Flagship partners CNR-IMM, Italy, CNRS-CRHEA, France, and STMicroelectronics, Italy, in collaboration with Graphene Flagship Associate Member TopGaN, Poland, collaborated on the Partnering Project GraNitE to produce graphene-enabled hot electron transistor (HET) devices. Thanks to nitride semiconductors, they achieved devices with current densities a million times higher than previous prototypes.
Nitride semiconductors are in the spotlight for their potential to be incorporated into HETs to improve their properties and performance. HETs are a type of vertical transistor that can operate at frequencies in the terahertz (THz) range, making them very valuable for applications in communications, medical diagnostics and security. Graphene is promising for applications in HETs, owing to its thinness and high conductivity. They are typically made from nitrides of gallium, aluminium or indium, or alloys of these metals. Aluminium and gallium nitrides are key ingredients in high-electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) – one of the technological foundations of 5G communications.
Gallium-based technologies do have their limitations, however, and GraNitE seeks to take advantage of graphene and layered materials to overcome them. The GraNitE team incorporated graphene as an active ingredient into high-powered aluminium-gallium nitride (AlGaN) and gallium nitride (GaN) based nitride transistors to better dissipate heat, by taking advantage of graphene's high thermal conductivity. The devices also operate at higher frequency thanks to the incorporation of high-quality graphene.
The team devised two approaches. Their first was to deposit graphene onto the surface of the nitride semiconductor using chemical vapour deposition (CVD). This resulted in highly homogeneous, nanocrystalline graphene films,1 which could lead to uptake by industry. The second was to grow monolayer graphene using CVD on a copper surface, then to transfer and integrate it into thin layers of AlGaN and GaN. This method resulted in a graphene/AlGaN junction with excellent rectifying properties, ideal for applications in switches, with an injection mechanism tuneable by modifying the AlGaN composition and thickness.2
Graphene Flagship partnering project GraNitE used their graphene nitride junction as a key building block to fabricate prototype HET devices. Their devices had a low voltage threshold and an electric current density six orders of magnitude higher than those in previous silicon tests,2 representing an important advance in the development of hybrid graphene/nitride semiconductors, and paving the way for future exploitation of this technology.
"The integration of graphene and nitride semiconductors is one of the most viable approaches to harness the unique properties of these materials for industrial applications," says Filippo Giannazzo, GraNitE Project Leader and Senior Scientist at Graphene Flagship partner CNR-IMM, Italy.
- F., Giannazzo, et al. "Graphene integration with nitride semiconductors for high power and high frequency electronics." Physica Status Solidi (A), 214 (4), 1600460 (2017).
- F., Giannazzo, et al. "High-performance graphene/AlGaN/GaN Schottky junctions for hot electron transistors." ACS Applied Electronic Materials, 1 (11), 2342-2354 (2019).