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John O | January 2019

Research project exploring new materials to push boundaries of silicon-based electronics

By Josh Perry, Editor


Scientists at the University of Freiburg (Germany), the Sustainability Center Freiburg, and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft are collaborating on a new research project that will test the feasibility of scandium aluminum nitride (ScAlN) as a new semiconductor for next-generation power electronics.


A team of researchers at Fraunhofer IAF has been working on the piezoelectric properties of ScAlN for the use in high-frequency filters for many years. (Fraunhofer IAF)


The Research of Functional Semiconductor Structures for Energy Efficient Power Electronic (Power Electronics 2020+) project seeks to find a path forward for more energy efficient and more powerful electronics, according to a press release from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Solid State Physics.


With silicon reaching its physical limits, there has already been a move within the electronics industry to use wide bandgap materials such as silicon carbide (SiC) and gallium nitride (GaN). The Power Electronics 2020+ project seeks to go even further with ScAlN.


“ScAlN is a piezoelectric semiconductor material with a high dielectric strength which is largely unexplored worldwide with regard of its usability in microelectronic applications,” the press release explained. “The aim of the project is to grow lattice-matched ScAlN on a GaN layer and to use the resulting heterostructures to process transistors with high current carrying capacity.”


Researchers believe that combining the two materials will not only provide higher power density per chip, higher switching speeds, higher operating temperatures, and a reduction in errors, but also double the maximum power output of devices with a lower energy demand.


“One of the biggest challenges of the project is crystal growth, considering that there exist neither growth recipes nor empirical values for this material, yet,” the press release added. “The project team needs to develop these during the next months in order to reach reproducible results and to produce layer structures that can successfully be used for power electronic applications.”

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