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Review Article
Open Access Peer-reviewed

Review of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Based Devices

Ahmed M. Nahhas
American Journal of Nanomaterials. 2019, 7(1), 10-21. DOI: 10.12691/ajn-7-1-2
Received January 22, 2019; Revised March 04, 2019; Accepted April 11, 2019

Abstract

This paper presents a review of the recent advances of the AlGaN/GaN high-electron-mobility transistors (HEMTs) based devices. The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have attracted potential for high frequency, voltage, power, temperature, and low noise applications. This is due to the superior electrical, electronic properties, high electron velocity of the GaN. These properties include the GaN wide band gap energy, electrical, optical and structural properties. The based structures of GaN such as AlGaN/GaN are driving the interest in the research areas of GaN HEMTs. Recently, the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have gained a great potential in radio frequency (RF) and power electronics (PE) based devices and applications. The recent aspects of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices are presented and discussed. The performance of different device demonstrated based on AlGaN/GaN HEMTs are reviewed. The structural, electrical, and optical properties of these devices are also reviewed.

1. Introduction

GaN is one of the group III-nitride family. It has unique electrical, electronic and optical properties. These properties include the direct wide bandgap. These unique properties make the GaN materiel as one of the key materials for high frequency, large bandwidth, high power based devices. GaN is a very hard, chemically and mechanically stable material. It has a high heat capacity and thermal conductivity 1, 2.

AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have a high performance at high powers and frequencies 3, 4. This is due to the high critical break down fields, electron mobility and concentration 5. The GaN thermal conductivity enhances the channels heat reduction in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs based devices. The heat reduction is an important for devices with high reliable and performance 6, 7. The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices also have been used as switching devices 8, 9. These devices have a high breakdown field, high voltage 10, and high electron velocity 11, 12. The high electric field and high electron velocity of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices allows the fabrication of low ON resistance, high breakdown voltage, and high switching frequency 13, 14. On the other hand, the AlGaN/GaN heterostructures HEMTs based devices have a great performance comparing with typical HEMTs devices 15, 16, 17. Moreover, most of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs are depletion type 18, 19.

The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have been the driving tool for many research investigations in the recent years. The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs are very promising devices for high frequency, voltage, power, and temperature applications 20, 21. This is due to the excellent material's properties of GaN. These properties include the wide band gap energy of 3.4 eV, the high electron mobility of 2000 cm2/Vs, the thermal conductivity of 160 W/Km, and the high breakdown field of 3.3 MV/cm 22, 23, 24. The GaN properties plays an important role in improving the saturated drain current and the DC transconductance of these devices 25. The AlGaN/GaN based HEMTs are also attractive for microwave wave applications leading to a high power density performance, as well as the electron saturation velocity 26. These devices have other applications including the cellular handset, high broadband 27, 28. They are considered the best candidates for wireless communication system applications. On the other hand, The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have becoming a very attractive some advanced application 29. These applications include the satellite communications, weather forecasting, and military systems 30, 31, 32. The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have recently used for biosensing based devices 33. These devices require a high sensitivity for certain applications 34. Recently, the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices are becoming very essential for wireless, radars, and power amplifiers applications 35.

2. AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Challenging Issues

The GaN based HEMTs devices have several structures including AlGaN and InGaN. These HEMTs can be made with heterostructures including different material and different band gap energies. In these structures, buffered layers are being used in the structure of GaN based HEMTs for the reduction of the lattice mismatch between the crystalline structures 35, 36, 37. Some of the challenges in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs device are the reduction of the gate leakage current and the reduction of the noise, and the improving of the drain current. The high quality, resistive substrates, and high thermal conductivity are the most important requirments for high performance AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices 38, 39. Despite of their properties, these devices have other critical problems. In these devices, the existence of defects and traps in the structure effecting the commercial usage and reproducibility. Other issues like the trapping are affecting the device reliability and cause the reduction of the drain current, light sensitivity 40 and reducing the output power 24, 41. There are several methods for investigating the effect of the traps in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices. These methods include the interconnection between the output power and the traps 24, 42. However, these defects result in the electron trapping leads to the reduction of the device performance 43. Recently, several techniques are being used to investigate the trapping effect in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs. These techniques include the transient spectroscopy method 44, the gate to drain conductance method 45, the high to low frequency method 46, 47, the capacitance and conductance method 48, 49, 50. Moreover, the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices suffers from the self heating in the conducting channel 7, 51. This heating effect increases with the increase the power density 7, 52 and thus results in a degradation of device performance 38, 39. The self heating results in activating the different degradation mechanisms including the mechanical, electrical, and material 7. Thus, controlling the device temperature is one of the key issues in achieving the device stability and reliability in AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 7, 53. The self heating effect in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs, also causes the channel temperature to increase and directly effects the transport properties 54, 55, 56.

One of the challenging issues of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs is the normally ON behavior of the device 21, 57, 58. Some of the proposed solutions for this issue including using different structures for the device gate 59, 60. Other solutions include the usage a thin barrier layer of AlGaN 61 and p-type GaN 21, 62. Furthermore, these devices have an additional challenging issue of a limited gate voltage 21. The gate voltage is limited to 6 volts. This is due to the device gate contact resistive behavior. Other issues of the AlGaN/GaN based HEMT is that the gate contacts required a minimum current to keep the transistor ON 21, 63. The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have some other serious issues that degrades their performance. These includes the gate leakage current 64 and the drain current collapsing 65, 66, 67, 68. The gate leakage current reduces the power efficiency, the breakdown voltage, and increases the noise 69. Moreover, the gate leakage current of the device increases with the increasing of the device temperature. This is due to the surface traps 70, 71.

3. Fabrication of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs

The AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices can be fabricated on different types of substrates. These substrates include the silicon (Si), silicon carbide (SiC), and sapphire (Al2O3). Among these substrates, the SiC substrates are the most sufficient substrates for the production of high quality AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices 72, 73. On the other hand, the contact of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices can be fabricated in two types, ohmic and Schottky. The ohmic contacts can be fabricated to the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices source and drain using many methods. These methods include the induced trap assisted tunneling 74, the microwave and rapid thermal annealing 75, 76, 77, 78. Moreover, the Schottky contacts in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs are the vital process. The disadvantage of the Schottky contacts in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs is the large reverse leakage current, which makes the device difficult to work efficiently. The reduction of the reverse gate leakage current of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs is essential for the device high performance 79, 80, 81.

4. AlGaN/GaN Based HEMT Devices

The optimization of the performance for the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs has been reported by Sun et al. 82. In that study, the reduction of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs gate leakage current was achieved 82. The study showed the effect of the gate structure and etching process on the device leakage current 82. The device in that study delivered a drain current of 533 mA/mm at gate length of 0.5µm 82. The gate leakage current of 20 nA/mm was measured at a drain voltage of 200 V 82. Furthermore, the study's result showed that the forward voltage of device could be improved by reducing the edge's dimensions 82. Moreover, the study showed that the forward voltage would be also improved by scaling down the gate length (LG) 82. Figure 1 shows the proposed structure of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 82. Figure 2 shows the I-V measurements on the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with different LG varies from 0.5 µm to 2.0 µm 82.

The characterization of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs using GRT was reported by Pavlidis et al. 83. In that work, the performance of the AlGaN/GaN on SiC was investigated using two thermal methods 83. These methods are the gate resistance thermometry (GRT) and the Raman thermometry (RT) 83. In that study, the GRT was used to determine the channel temperature of the AlGaN/GaN 83. While, the RT was used to verify the GRT by comparing the channel temperatures measured by both techniques under various biasing conditions 83. The study's result showed that the GRT method showed a lower peak temperature comparing with the RT method 83. In that study, it was also found that the GRT and the RT results were comparable for the open channel and normal bias conditions at low power densities 83. It was also found that the RT measures a higher temperature comparing with the GRT at higher power densities 83. This is could be due to the large peak temperature in the center of the device 83. Figure 3 shows the device structure of four terminal sensing to measure the gate resistance over a single finger for six finger devices used in that study 83. Figure 4 shows the power densities versus RT and GRT 83.

The thermal stability and the failure mechanism of Schottky gate based AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was reported by Mocanu et al. 29. In that study, the electrothermal stability behavior of the depletion mode stability and the predominant defect mechanism of the Schottky gate AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was investigated 29. In that study, the temperature measurements were conducted at different operating points 29. The aim was to determine the thermal limits of the safe operating area 29. The temperature measurements confirmed the observed failure patterns 29. The study's results showed that the failure mechanism was caused by the additional power dissipation 29. This was resulting from the drain gate current leakage of the Schottky gate 29. The study's result helps to understand the electrothermal behavior of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 29. It is they also can be bases for safe operating area thermal limits and thus to avoid device failures 29. Figure 5 shows a cross section (a) and top view (b) of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs device 29. Figure 6 shows the I-V characteristics for the device in temperatures ranging from 27 up to 440°C 29.

The effect of the hydrogen on the defects of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs characterized by low frequency noise was reported by Chen et al. 84. The low frequency noise method was used to investigate the effect of the hydrogen on defects 84. The study's result showed that the drain current (ID) of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs increased after the hydrogen treatment 84. The maximum ID was measured to be 80 mA at the gate to source voltage (Vgs) of 0 V and drain to source voltage (VdS) of 5 V 84. The hydrogen treatment resulted in improving the suppression of the current collapsing 84. It was also found that the trap density decreased by about one order of magnitude after the hydrogen treatment 84. The study's result also showed that the trap's reduction was due to the hydrogen defects at the AlGaN layer 84. It was also due to the AlGaN barrier layer and the heterostructure interface 84. In that study, the electrical properties of the AlGaN/GaN device were tested before and after the treatment with the hydrogen 84. The study's results showed that the I-V properties were affected by the hydrogen treatment 84. The drain current of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs increased to 917 mA 84. The results also showed that the trap density decreased to 5.1 × 1016 cm-13eV1 for the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs after the treatment 84. This behavior was due to the reduction of electron trap levels at different interfaces 84. Figure 7 shows the I-V characteristics of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs before and after hydrogen treatment 84. Figure 8 shows the pulsed I-V characteristics of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with Vgs ranging from -3.0 to 0 V at 0.5 V step before hydrogen treatment (a) and after hydrogen treatment (b) 84.

The fabrication the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs on patterned resistive/conductive SiC templates was reported by Prystawko et al. 85. In that study, a high performance AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was fabricated on resistive substrates of SiC 85. The SiC layer was used to grow a thick resistive SiC epitaxial layer on conductive SiC substrate 85. In that study, a patterned SiC templates were fabricated on smooth AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with width of flat regions 100 μm 85. The study's results showed that the fabricated AlGaN/GaN HEMTs had a good electrical performance 85. Figure 9 shows the optical image of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs structure 85. Figure 10 shows the I-V characteristics of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 85.

The effects of the polycrystalline AlN on the performance of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was reported by Zhang et al. 86. In that study, the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was fabricated by the plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) 86. This fabrication method causes some surface damage at the resulted device 86. In that study, the AlN films grown by plasma enhanced atom layer deposition (PEALD) 86. The resulted device had a peak transconductance of 38.6% and a saturation ID of 26.3% with 50 V 86. The resulted AlN film polycrystalline in the device was annealed at 850 °C 86. The annealing process resulted in reducing the trap charging effect 86. Figure 11 shows the device structure of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 86. Figure 12 shows the double directional C-V characteristics (a) and the extracted carrier concentration distribution at different depths (b) 86.

The high temperature carrier density and mobility enhancements in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs using AlN layer was reported Ko et al. 87. In that study, the effect of the AlN layer on the optical and electrical properties of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was investigated 87. The AlGaN layer in HEMTs structure layer was grown using grown by metal organic chemical vapor deposition method (MOCVD) 87. Several measuring methods were used to examine the properties of the resulted structure including the x-ray diffraction (XRD) and the photoluminescence (PL), the electrolyte electro reflectance (EER) 87. The study's result showed an improvement of the electric field from 430 to 621 kV/cm with the use of the AlN layer 87. Also, the results also showed that the temperature resulted in decreasing the device's mobility and the carrier concentrations for the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 87. This was due to the phonon scattering and carrier thermal escaping 87. Figure 13 shows the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs device's structure with and without the AlN 87. Figure 14 shows the room temperature (RT) PL spectra of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs device structure with and without the AlN 87.

The improved reliability of AlGaN/GaN-on-Si HEMTs with high density SiN passivation was reported by Sasangka et al. 88. In that study, the effect of the physical degradation in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was investigated. The study's result provided an evidence that pre-existing oxygen was detrimental to device reliability 88. It decreased the device lifetime. One solution to that problem is the optimization of the device fabrication processes 88. It was also found that the SiN degrades under the high temperature reverse bias 88. That resulted in causing the oxygen from the ambient diffuses through the passivation to electrochemically oxidize the AlGaN surface to form pits at the gate edge 88. Figure 15 shows the device structure of the AlGaN/GaN-on-Si HEMTs 88. Figure 16 shows the I-V characteristics for AlGaN/GaN-on-Si HEMTs 88.

The performance enhancement of the gate annealed AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have been reported by Mahajan et al. 89. In that work, the effect of the unannealed and post gate annealed electrical performances of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was investigated 89. In that work, the effects of the gate annealing on the DC parameters of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs were investigated 89. It was found that the post gate annealing significantly improved the performance of the AlGaN/GaN HEMT device parameters 89. The study's result showed that the improvement in the device parameters was correlated with the electron mobility and the removal of interface in the gated region after gate annealing 89. The study's result showed that a significant improvement in the electrical characteristics of the devices was observed for an optimal annealing of 300°C 89. It was also found that the annealing also resulted in a decreasing in the Schottky reverse leakage current and an improving the off-state device breakdown voltage 89. Figure 17 shows the I-V characteristics for AlGaN/GaN HEMTs before and after gate annealing 89. Figure 18 shows the C-V characteristics for AlGaN/GaN HEMTs before and after gate annealing 89.

The optimization of the ohmic contacts on the thin/thick AlGaN/GaN HEMTs devices was reported by Dhakad et al. 90. In that study, the effect of different thickness of ohmic contacts on the device performance was investigated 90. In that study, three different materials were used for the ohmic contacts 90. These materials include the Ti/Al/Cr/Au, Ti/Al/Pt/Au and Ti/Al/Ni/Au metal 90. The study's result showed that the Ni based metal had the best morphology 90. The Ni showed the highest specific contact resistance 90. The study showed that low contact resistance values of 0.8 × 105 Ω-cm2 were achieved 90. It was also found that the contact resistance increased dramatically for thin AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 90. Figure 19 shows the ohmic contact (Ti/Al/x/Au) surface morphology images where x metal layer is replaced by Cr, Pt, and Ni metals fabricated over thick AlGaN (25 nm) structures 90. Figure 20 20 shows a comparison of specific contact resistance for different ratio of Ni-based ohmic contacts (1:5:4:3, 1:5:2:3 and 1:7.5:2:2.5) over thin and thick AlGaN 90.

The performance improvement and scalability of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have been investigated by Takhar et al. 91. In that study, two types processes were used including the wet-recessed and the wet-oxidized 91. In that study, a thin layer of Al2O3 was grown in the AlGaN/GaN heterostructure 91. That study showed that the wet etching resulting in a damage free recession of the gate region and compensating for the decreased gate capacitance and increased the gate leakage 91. The study also showed that the performance improvement of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was manifested as an increase in the saturation drain current, transconductance, and unity current gain frequency 91. This is due to the decrease in the subthreshold current 91. The study showed that the performance improvement was primarily due to the increase in the effective velocity which make the wet-recessed gate oxide AlGaN/GaN HEMTs much more scalable 91. Figure 21 shows a schematic of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with and without Al2O3 below the Schottky gate 91. Figure 22 shows the C-V characteristics for the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 91.

The role of interface traps on the negative threshold voltage (VT) shift in the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have been studied by Malik et al. 92. In that study, the negative shift in the VT in AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with application of reverse gate bias stress was investigated 92. In that study, the measurements were applied to the device after biasing in strong pinch-off and a low drain to source voltage condition for a fixed time duration 92. The results showed that the negative VT shift after application of reverse gate bias stress 92. The results indicated that the presence of more carriers in channel as compared to the unstressed condition 92. The study's results also showed that the presence of the AlGaN/GaN interface states was the reason of negative VT shift 92. Figure 23 shows the I-V characteristics of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs device measured before and after the reverse gate 92. Figure 24 shows the buffer leakage current measured at VGS =-7V 92. Figure 25 shows the I-V of device with long (5 ms), medium (3.3 ms) and short (2.5 ms) integration time after application of reverse gate voltage stress 92.

The electrical degradation of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs induced by residual stress of SiN was reported by Bai et al. 93. In that study, the traps characteristics of the AlGaN/GaN interface was reported 93. In that study, several types of measurements were used. These measurements include the DC measurement, frequency dependent C-V measurements 93. The study's results showed that the stress may induced a decrease in the ID, and increased on-resistance 93. It was also found that the SiN/GaN interface traps with energy 0.42 eV to 0.45 eV was obtained after passivation 93. The results showed that the formation of the acceptor-like traps under the gate on AlGaN barrier side was the reason for the degradation 93. Figure 26 shows a schematic of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 93. Figure 27 shows the C-V characteristics of un-passivated and passivated AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 93.

The ultra-high voltage electron microscopy investigation of the irradiation induced displacement defects on the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was reported by Sasaki et al. 94. In that study, the irradiation effect on the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was investigated 94. Several techniques were used to examine the irradiation effect including the ultra-high voltage electron microscopy (HVEM) and the optical measurements 94. The study's results showed that the dislocation loop on created on a 1.5 μm device irradiated by 18 MeV (Nickel) Ni ions 94. The results also showed that none line-type tracking defect was created by the heavy ion irradiation 94. The results showed that the device characteristics remained stable, and no increasing in the leakage current 94. Figure 28 shows the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs before irradiation (a) and after irradiation 18 MeV Ni ions at 2.8 × 1013 ion/cm2(b) 94. Figure 29 shows the reverse (a) and forward (b) Schottky contact I-V characteristics before and after the 18 MeV Ni ions irradiation 94.

The surface stoichiometry modification and the improved DC/RF characteristics of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs were reported by Upadhyay et al. 95. That study showed that the plasma treatment with nitrogen (N2) and oxygen (O2) followed with thermal annealing improved the surface morphology of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 95. The study also shows an improvement in the transistor characteristics including the source/drain access and gate regions after treatment 95. The treatment with N2 helped in the reduction of the N-vacancy 95. On the other hand, the formation of oxides leads to the reduction of the gate leakage current 95. The study's results showed that an increasing of the device transconductance, the saturation drain current, the ON/OFF current ratio were observed 95. The results also showed an increasing the current gain frequency by a factor of 1.7 for a channel length of 500 nm 95. Figure 30 shows the schematic of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 95. Figure 31 31 shows I-V of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs 95.

5. Conclusions

In this paper, a review of the recent advances of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs based devices have been presented. Several structures of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs were explained and discussed. The effect of different parameters on the performance of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs was discussed. In this paper, some of the most important technological issues related to the fabrication of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs have been reviewed. Despite of the progress in the development of the AlGaN/GaN HEMTs based devices, these devices still have several critical problems. These problems include the existence of the defects and traps in the device's structure. It also includes self heating effect. All these problems effect and reduce the device reliability and reproducibility.

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Published with license by Science and Education Publishing, Copyright © 2019 Ahmed M. Nahhas

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Ahmed M. Nahhas. Review of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Based Devices. American Journal of Nanomaterials. Vol. 7, No. 1, 2019, pp 10-21. http://pubs.sciepub.com/ajn/7/1/2
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Nahhas, Ahmed M.. "Review of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Based Devices." American Journal of Nanomaterials 7.1 (2019): 10-21.
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Nahhas, A. M. (2019). Review of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Based Devices. American Journal of Nanomaterials, 7(1), 10-21.
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Nahhas, Ahmed M.. "Review of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs Based Devices." American Journal of Nanomaterials 7, no. 1 (2019): 10-21.
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  • Figure 3. Device layout and configuration of four-terminal sensing to measure the gate resistance over a single finger for six finger devices [83]
  • Figure 7. I-V characteristics of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs before/after hydrogen treatment (a) Output characteristics with Vgs ranging from -3.0 to 0 V at 0.5 Vstep (b) Transfer characteristics and transconductance at Vds = 5 V (c) Vgd characteristics (d) Vgs characteristics [84]
  • Figure 8. Pulsed I-V characteristics of AlGaN/GaN HEMTs with Vgs ranging from -3.0 to 0 V at 0.5 V step before hydrogen treatment (a) and after hydrogen treatment (b) [84]
  • Figure 20. Specific contact resistance for different ratio of Ni-based ohmic contacts (1:5:4:3, 1:5:2:3, 1:7.5:2:2.5) over thin/thick AlGaN [90]
  • Figure 23. I-V characteristics of device measured before/after reverse gate bias state stress at VGS =-7 V and VDS =100 mV for a time duration of 15 s [92]
  • Figure 25. I-V characteristics of device with long (5 ms), medium (3.3 ms) and short (2.5 ms) integration time after application of reverse gate voltage stress [92]
  • Figure 29. I-V characteristics of Schottky contact for AlGaN/GaN HEMTs (a) reverse (b) forward before and after the 18 MeV Ni ions irradiation [94]
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