Design, Fabrication and Characterization of GaN HEMTs for Power Switching Applications

Abstract: The unique properties of the III-nitride heterostructure, consisting of gallium nitride (GaN), aluminium nitride (AlN) and their ternary compounds (e.g. AlGaN, InAlN), allow for the fabrication of high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs). These devices exhibit high breakdown fields, high electron mobilities and small parasitic capacitances, making them suitable for wireless communication and power electronic applications. In this work, GaN-based power switching HEMTs and low voltage, short-channel HEMTs were designed, fabricated, and characterized. In the first part of the thesis, AlGaN/GaN-on-SiC high voltage metal-insulator-semiconductor (MIS)HEMTs fabricated on a novel ‘buffer-free’ heterostructure are presented. This heterostructure effectively suppresses buffer-related trapping effects while maintaining high electron confinement and low leakage currents, making it a viable material for high voltage, power electronic HEMTs. This part of the thesis covers device processing techniques to minimize leakage currents and maximize breakdown voltages in these ‘buffer-free’ MISHEMTs. Additionally, a recess-etched, Ta-based, ohmic contact process was utilized to form low-resistive ohmic contacts with contact resistances of 0.44-0.47 Ω∙mm. High voltage operation can be achieved by employing a temperature-stable nitrogen implantation isolation process, which results in three-terminal breakdown fields of 98-123 V/μm. By contrast, mesa isolation techniques exhibit breakdown fields below 85 V/μm and higher off-state leakage currents. Stoichiometric low-pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD) SiNx passivation layers suppress gate currents through the AlGaN barrier below 10 nA/mm over 1000 V, which is more than two orders of magnitude lower compared to Si-rich SiNx passivation layers. A 10% dynamic on-resistance increase at 240 V was measured in HEMTs with stoichiometric SiNx passivation, which is likely caused by slow traps with time constants over 100 ms. SiNx gate dielectrics display better electrical isolation at high voltages compared to HfO2 and Ta2O5. However, the two gate oxides exhibit threshold voltages (Vth) above -2 V, making them a promising alternative for the fabrication of recess-etched normally-off MISHEMTs. Reducing the gate length (Lg) to minimize losses and increase the operating frequency in GaN HEMTs also entails more severe short-channel effects (SCEs), limiting gain, output power and the maximum off-state voltage. In the second part of the thesis, SCEs were studied in short-channel GaN HEMTs using a drain-current injection technique (DCIT). The proposed method allows Vth to be obtained for a wide range of drain-source voltages (Vds) in one measurement, which then can be used to calculate the drain-induced barrier lowering (DIBL) as a rate-of-change of Vth with respect to Vds. The method was validated using HEMTs with a Fe-doped GaN buffer layer and a C-doped AlGaN back-barrier with thin channel layers. Supporting technology computer-aided design (TCAD) simulations indicate that the large increase in DIBL is caused by buffer leakage. This method could be utilized to optimize buffer design and gate lengths to minimize on-state losses and buffer leakage currents in power switching HEMTs.