Journal of Semiconductors, Volume. 44, Issue 6, 061802(2023)

Recent advances in NiO/Ga2O3 heterojunctions for power electronics

Xing Lu*, Yuxin Deng*, Yanli Pei*, Zimin Chen*, and Gang Wang*
Author Affiliations
  • State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies, School of Electronics and Information Technology, Sun Yat-Sen University, Guangzhou 510275, China
  • show less

    Beta gallium oxide (β-Ga2O3) has attracted significant attention for applications in power electronics due to its ultra-wide bandgap of ~ 4.8 eV and the large critical electric field of 8 MV/cm. These properties yield a high Baliga’s figures of merit (BFOM) of more than 3000. Though β-Ga2O3 possesses superior material properties, the lack of p-type doping is the main obstacle that hinders the development of β-Ga2O3-based power devices for commercial use. Constructing heterojunctions by employing other p-type materials has been proven to be a feasible solution to this issue. Nickel oxide (NiO) is the most promising candidate due to its wide band gap of 3.6–4.0 eV. So far, remarkable progress has been made in NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction power devices. This review aims to summarize recent advances in the construction, characterization, and device performance of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction power devices. The crystallinity, band structure, and carrier transport property of the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions are discussed. Various device architectures, including the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction pn diodes (HJDs), junction barrier Schottky (JBS) diodes, and junction field effect transistors (JFET), as well as the edge terminations and super-junctions based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction, are described.

    1. Introduction

    • Table 1. Material properties of Ga2O3 and some competing semiconductors for power electronics.

      Table 1. Material properties of Ga2O3 and some competing semiconductors for power electronics.

      MaterialSiGaAs4H-SiCGaNDiamondGa2O3
      Band gap (eV)1.11.433.253.45.54.6–4.9
      Critical electric field (MV/cm)0.30.42.53.3108
      Electron mobility (cm2/(V·s))14808400100012502000300
      Dielectric constant11.812.99.795.510
      Baliga FOM ( ϵμEc3 )114.731784624660 \gt 3000

    Power devices have been widely used in switch control and high-power circuit driving, which play an essential role in multiple applications. With the fast development of electric automobiles, fifth-generation (5G) networks, and the internet of things (IoT), silicon material has generally reached its physical limit, and traditional silicon-based power electronics have been hard to satisfy the demand for many ultra-high power applications. Wide bandgap semiconductor materials such as silicon carbide (SiC), gallium nitride (GaN), diamond, and gallium oxide (Ga2O3) possess attractive properties and are considered potential candidates for next-generation power devices[1,2]. Among these, Ga2O3 has attracted significant attention due to its large critical electric field of 8 MV/cm and the high Baliga’s figure of merit (BFOM) of more than 3000[3-5]. The BFOM of Ga2O3 is much higher than that of Si, SiC, and GaN, indicating that Ga2O3-based devices can achieve higher breakdown voltage (BV) and lower specific on-resistance (Ron,sp) simultaneously.Table 1 compares the critical material parameters of several competing power electronics semiconductors. There are five phases of Ga2O3 labeled asα,β,γ,δ andε. The monoclinicβ-Ga2O3 is the most stable[6] and is commonly studied in fabricating power devices. Large-sizeβ-Ga2O3 bulk substrates can be synthesized by the low-coat melt-growth methods, such as floating zone (FZ) and edge-defined film-fed growth (EFG)[7,8], providing significant benefits for future mass production of electronic devices. Furthermore, high-quality homoepitaxy ofβ-Ga2O3 thin films can be realized by halide vapor phase epitaxy (HVPE), metal-organic chemical vapor deposition (MOCVD), and molecular beam epitaxy (MBE)[9-14].

    N-type conduction inβ-Ga2O3 with a tunable doping concentration ranging from 1015 to 1019 cm−3 has been demonstrated by Si and Sn doping[8,15,16]. However, due to the large activation energy of acceptors and the large self-trapping energy of holes[17,18], p-type conduction inβ-Ga2O3 is proven difficult. The absence of p-typeβ-Ga2O3 is a major obstacle limiting the design ofβ-Ga2O3-based bipolar devices. A bipolar structure usually possesses low leakage current, high thermal stability, and good surge handling capability, which is much preferred over the unipolar configuration for power electronics. However, due to the lack of p-type doping, the studies ofβ-Ga2O3 power devices are mainly focused on unipolar devices such as Schottky barrier diodes (SBDs) and metal–oxide–semiconductor field effect transistors (MOSFETs)[19-22]. To overcome the obstacle, one possible solution is employing other p-type semiconductors and forming heterojunctions withβ-Ga2O3. Abundant investigations have been demonstrated onβ-Ga2O3 heterojunctions using various p-type semiconductors such as SiC, GaN, SnO, Cu2O, CuI, and NiO[23-30]. Among these, NiO is considered the most promising choice owing to its wide bandgap of 3.6-4.0 eV and controllable p-type doping with decent mobility[25-27,31]. Very recently, the first kilovolt-class NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction pn diodes (HJDs) were successfully demonstrated by sputtering a p-NiO layer onβ-Ga2O3, which opened up a route toward future bipolar operation ofβ-Ga2O3 power electronics[27]. Following that, remarkable progress has been made by many researchers in improving the BFOM of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs. Furthermore, the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction has been adopted into other device architectures such as junction barrier Schottky diodes (JBSs)[32], junction field effect transistors (JFETs)[33] and edge termination structures[34,35].

    This paper presents a detailed overview of the recent progress in NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction power devices. Section 2 discusses the construction and characterization of the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction, focusing on its crystallinity, band structure, and carrier transport property. Section 3 and section 4 deal with the device technologies, including the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs, JBSs, and JFETs, as well as the edge terminations and super-junctions based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction.

    2. Construction and characterization of NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction

    2.1. Construction of high-voltage NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction

    NiO thin films can be grown by several techniques such as sol-gel spin coating, radio frequency (RF) sputtering, pulsed laser deposition (PLD), atomic layer deposition (ALD), MBE, and thermal oxidation of Ni[31,36-42]. The initial study of NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction was reported by Kokubunet al. in 2016[26]. A Li-doped NiO layer was grown on a 0.4-mm-thick (100)β-Ga2O3 single-crystal substrate (n = 5 × 1017 cm−3) by the sol-gel spin coating technique. The device schematic and current–voltage (I–V) characteristics of the sol-gel NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD are shown inFig. 1. The device exhibited a high rectifying ratio of over 108 at ±3 V. However, the largeRon,sp of approximate 1 Ω·cm2 and low BV of 46 V indicated a suboptimal device performance for power applications. Tadjeret al.[41] reported the construction of NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs using sputtered and ALD-deposited NiO thin films. However, the fabricated devices showed either a very low forward current or a high reverse leakage current, which failed to satisfy the demand for power electronics. The NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions have also been fabricated by PLD for UV detection applications[43-46], yet the problem of high reverse current still existed.

    (Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) I–V characteristics of the sol-gel NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. Reproduced from Ref. [26]. Copyright 2016, The Japan Society of Applied Physics.

    Figure 1.(Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) I–V characteristics of the sol-gel NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. Reproduced from Ref. [26]. Copyright 2016, The Japan Society of Applied Physics.

    In 2020, the first kilovolt-class NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD was successfully demonstrated by sputtering a p-NiO thin film onto an epitaxial n-β-Ga2O3 drift layer[27], as shown inFig. 2. The NiO films were sputtered from a NiO target at room temperature and 3 mTorr pressure in a mixture of Ar/O2 ambient with RF power of 150 W. According to the Hall measurement, the hole concentration and hall mobility of the NiO were 1 ×1019 cm−3 and 0.24 cm2/(V·s), respectively. The fabricated NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs featured a high BV of over 1 kV with an ultra-low leakage current of below 1μA/cm2, representing a key milestone for the development of NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction-based power devices. So far, RF sputtering has become the optimal method for depositing NiO onβ-Ga2O3, and continuous breakthrough has been achieved in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction-based power devices.

    (Color online) (a) Schematic of the first kilovolt-class NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [27]. Copyright 2020, IEEE.

    Figure 2.(Color online) (a) Schematic of the first kilovolt-class NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [27]. Copyright 2020, IEEE.

    2.2. Crystallinity and band structure of sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction

    X-ray diffraction (XRD) measurements and high-resolution transmission electron microscopy (HRTEM) observations have been used to investigate the crystallinity of the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction. Several reports have identified that the sputtered NiO films were polycrystalline even after a post-deposition annealing (PDA) process[25,27,47-49]. As shown inFig. 3(a), three diffraction peaks located at around 37.3°, 43.2° and 63.1° could be observed in the XRD patterns of the sputtered NiO films, which corresponded to the (111), (200), and (220) planes of NiO, respectively[48]. The HRTEM image inFig. 3(b) also revealed that the sputtered NiO film was generally polycrystalline with fine nanocrystalline grains and a seamless contact was formed at the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction interface. By comparing the XRD patterns and HRTEM images of the NiO films sputtered on ( 2¯01 ), (001), and (010) orientedβ-Ga2O3 substrates, a very recent study pointed out that the crystallinity of sputtered NiO showed no strong dependency on theβ-Ga2O3 substrate orientations[47].

    (Color online) (a) XRD patterns of the sputtered NiO film on sapphire before and after annealing. (b) Cross-sectional HRTEM images of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction interface. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    Figure 3.(Color online) (a) XRD patterns of the sputtered NiO film on sapphire before and after annealing. (b) Cross-sectional HRTEM images of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction interface. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    It is known that the band structure of a heterojunction is crucial for device design and application. The band alignment of the heterojunction greatly influences its carrier transport properties. Thus it is essential to characterize the band offset at the heterojunction interface accurately. Gonget al.[50] reported a type-II band alignment of the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction with a valence band offset (VBO) of 3.60 eV and conduction band offset (CBO) of 2.68 eV. In comparison, Zhanget al.[45] reported a VBO value of 2.1 eV and CBO value of 0.9 eV for a similar sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction. The band alignment of the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions varies from each other, which could be determined by many factors, such as the strain, defects/vacancies, interfacial contamination, crystal orientation, and so on. Due to the crystalline anisotropy,β-Ga2O3 possesses anisotropic material properties and devices with different orientations show different performances[14,51-56]. The substrate orientation-dependent band alignment of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions was investigated by an X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS) analysis[47]. The VBO values of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions were extracted to be 2.12 ± 0.06, 2.44 ± 0.07, and 2.66 ± 0.07 eV for ( 2¯01 ), (001) and (010)β-Ga2O3 substrates, respectively. The determined energy band diagrams of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions with differentβ-Ga2O3 orientations are shown inFig. 4. The influence of a PDA process on the band alignment of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction was studied by Xiaet al.[57]. As shown inFig. 5, the band offsets monotonically increased while the bandgap of NiO decreased with the elevated annealing temperature up to 600 °C. The results also indicated a possible unstable performance of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction device at high temperatures.

    (Color online) The energy band diagrams of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions at thermal equilibrium with different β-Ga2O3 substrate orientations. Reproduced from Ref. [47]. Copyright 2023, Elsevier B.V.

    Figure 4.(Color online) The energy band diagrams of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions at thermal equilibrium with different β-Ga2O3 substrate orientations. Reproduced from Ref. [47]. Copyright 2023, Elsevier B.V.

    (Color online) Band alignments of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions as a function of post-deposition annealing temperature. Reproduced from Ref. [57]. Copyright 2022, IOP Publishing Ltd.

    Figure 5.(Color online) Band alignments of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions as a function of post-deposition annealing temperature. Reproduced from Ref. [57]. Copyright 2022, IOP Publishing Ltd.

    2.3. Carrier transport mechanisms in the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction

    Several groups have identified different forward conduction mechanisms rather than the conventional diffusion theory in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction[48,50,58]. Due to the high barrier height against carriers in the type-II band structure, the diffusion and emission currents in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction are negligible at a low forward bias. When the low forward bias is below 1.6 V, interface recombination has been revealed to be the dominant forward conduction mechanism of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions[48,50], in which the electrons and holes recombined once they meet at the heterojunction interface by overcoming the barrier of the depletion region. For an asymmetric heterojunction, the interface recombination current can be expressed as the following equation according to Grundmannet al.[59]

    Jreco(V)=ζqVkT2kTϵsσnσpn0exp(qVbi2kT)exp(qV2kT),

    where k and T are the Boltzmann’s constant and the temperature, ϵs and n0 are the dielectric constant and electron concentration of theβ-Ga2O3, Vbi is the build-in potential in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction, and σn and σp are the conductivities ofβ-Ga2O3 and NiO, respectively. The coefficient ζ=1 or ζ0 represents the fast or low recombination occurring at the heterojunction interface. A near-zero ζ of ~0.008 was obtained for the sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction at room temperature, indicating a relatively slow recombination. Given Vbi=1.9V fromC–V measurement, Gonget al.[50] also revealed a small ζ which decreased from 5.4 × 10−4 to 3.4 × 10−6 when the applied bias varied from Vbi/2 to Vbi . Due to the large VBO (> 2 eV) of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction, the holes in NiO can hardly be injected across the barrier at a low forward bias. Instead, the electrons contributed byβ-Ga2O3 recombine with the holes in the valence band of NiO through interfacial states, which forms the interface recombination current.

    When the forward bias increased (>1.6 V), a trap-assisted multistep tunneling model became the dominant conduction mechanism in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction[48]. The model can be described by the following equation[60,61]

    Jtunnel(V)=Jt0exp(αθ12V),

    Jt0=BNTexp(αθ12Vbi),

    where α=(4/3)m*ϵs/ND , ND is the doping concentration ofβ-Ga2O3, θ is the number of steps of the tunneling, and B is a constant.Fig. 6(a) shows the fitting result of the two models, as mentioned above, with the experimental forwardI–V characteristics of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diodes at different temperatures, which exhibits a good agreement. The extracted ln(Jt0) as a function of temperature showing good linearity further confirmed the multistep tunneling mechanism, as shown inFig. 6(b). It is speculated that the grain boundaries in the sputtered NiO films act as trap states[48] and facilitate electron tunneling[62]. In addition, according to the deep-level transient spectroscopy (DLTS) measurements carried out at a fixed reverse voltage of –6 V, a pulse filling voltage of +1 V, a pulse filling time of 0.02 ms, and a frequency of 1 Hz[63], an electron trap corresponded to the forward trap-assisted tunneling was observed in the spectra for the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction. This electron trap (ET) exhibited an energy level ofEC– 0.67 eV, which is related to Fe substituting for Ga on a tetrahedral site (FeGaI)[64]. It has been confirmed that Fe impurities unintentionally doped in the EFG bulkβ-Ga2O3 during the crystal growth[65], which might be the possible origination of theET.Fig. 7 shows the energy band diagrams and carrier dynamics of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction.

    (Color online) (a) Temperature-dependent forward I–V characteristics and the fitting result with the interface recombination and trap-assisted tunneling current model. (b) ln(Jt0) versus temperature plot for the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    Figure 6.(Color online) (a) Temperature-dependent forward I–V characteristics and the fitting result with the interface recombination and trap-assisted tunneling current model. (b) ln(Jt0) versus temperature plot for the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    (Color online) Energy band diagrams of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction p–n diode at a (a) low and (b) high forward bias. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    Figure 7.(Color online) Energy band diagrams of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction p–n diode at a (a) low and (b) high forward bias. Reproduced from Ref. [48]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    When the forward bias went beyond 3.5 V, a high-level injection phenomenon and corresponding conductivity modulation effect were observed[62]. This is because the energy band of NiO is pulled down at a very high forward bias, which leads to a significantly reduced hole barrier height at the Fermi tail; thus, the holes in NiO can travel across the heterojunction interface and diffuse intoβ-Ga2O3. DLTS spectra performed at the same condition in Ref. [63] but with frequency of 1200 Hz exhibited two positive peaks, which are the distinctive contribution by hole traps (HT). The detection of HT further confirmed the hole injection from p-NiO toβ-Ga2O3 in the heterojunction.

    3. Device technology based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction

    Possessing the advantages of low leakage current, high thermal stability, and good surge handling capability, bipolar power devices based on pn junctions have always attracted great attention, which promotes the blossoming of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction-based power electronics. Very recently, a high BFOM of 13.21 GW/cm2 was successfully demonstrated in an 8-kV class sputtered NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD, representing the highest BFOM value among all the reportedβ-Ga2O3 power devices[62]. Besides, high-performance JBSs[32] and JFETs[33] based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions have been developed by several groups. Implementation of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions as edge terminations and super-junctions in various types ofβ-Ga2O3 power devices has been promised[34,35].Fig. 8 lists some milestones in developing state-of-the-art NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction based power devices.

    (Color online) The milestones of the state-of-the-art NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction based power devices. Reproduced from Refs. [27, 32, 33, 35]. Copyright 2021 and 2022, IEEE.

    Figure 8.(Color online) The milestones of the state-of-the-art NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction based power devices. Reproduced from Refs. [27, 32, 33, 35]. Copyright 2021 and 2022, IEEE.

    NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diodes

    3.1. NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diodes

    As previously mentioned, the first 1 kV NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs[27] were fabricated using an 8-μm thick lightly doped (n = 4 × 1016 cm−3)β-Ga2O3 drift layer grown on a conductive (n = 2.6 × 1018 cm−3) (001) substrate with a 200-nm thick sputtered p-NiO layer (p = 1 × 1019 cm−3) on top. The device yielded a BV of 1059 V with an ultra-low leakage current of below 10−6 A/cm2 before breakdown and a lowRon,sp of 3.5 mΩ·cm2, leading to a BFOM of 0.32 GW/cm2. The results pave the way for developing high-performance bipolar power devices based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions.

    The trap states located within the sputtered NiO and at the heterojunction interface significantly affect the device performance of a NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD. A PDA process has been proven as an effective method to improve the crystallinity of the sputtered NiO and reduce the defects density at the hetero-interface[48,49,66]. Moreover, the PDA process could also improve the metal-to-NiO Ohmic contact. Through a precisely controlled PDA process, Haoet al.[66] demonstrated the performance improved NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs. After annealing at 350 °C for 3 min in a nitrogen atmosphere, theRon,sp of the HJD was reduced from 5.4 to 4.1 mΩ·cm2 while the BV increased from 900 to 1630 V, leading to an improved BFOM from 0.16 to 0.65 GW/cm2 as shown inFig. 9. The ideality factor was extracted to be 3.02 and 1.27 for devices without and with annealing, and the calculated interface trap density (Nt) were about 1.04 × 1012 and 1.33 × 1011 eV−1, respectively.

    (Color online) The (a) forward and (b) reverse I–V characteristics of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diodes with and without annealing. Reproduced from Ref. [66]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 9.(Color online) The (a) forward and (b) reverse I–V characteristics of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diodes with and without annealing. Reproduced from Ref. [66]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    Various field plate (FP) structures have been implemented in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs to manage the electric field. Gonget al.[67] reported a double-layered insulating FP structure. The first layer insulator was a 350-nm-thick SiNx layer deposited by plasma enhanced chemical vapor deposition (PECVD) at 300 °C and the second layer insulator was a 40-nm-thick Al2O3 layer grown by ALD at 300 °C. Subsequently, a 300 nm NiO layer with a length of field plate (LFP) of 10μm was deposited by RF sputtering. A PDA process was carried out at 300 °C in air for 1 h. The device demonstrated a BV of 1036 V and aRon,sp of 5.4 mΩ·cm2. A small-angle bevel FP structure was proposed for the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs by Wanget al.[25], as shown inFig. 10. To realize the small-angel bevel FP, a 1-μm thick SiO2 was deposited by PECVD and dry etched using a photoresist mask formed by a variable-temperature photoresist reflow technique. The device featured a BV of up to 2410 V with a lowRon,sp of 1.12 mΩ·cm2, yielding a high BFOM of 5.18 GW/cm2. The bevel angle of the FP, the dielectric layer thickness, and the dimension of the FP are the critical parameters. With well-optimized parameters, this FP structure can offer great potential for fabricating high-voltageβ-Ga2O3 power devices.

    (Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction with small-angle bevel FP. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [25]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    Figure 10.(Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction with small-angle bevel FP. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [25]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    Another approach to improve the performance of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs is using a double-layered NiO film[68]. As shown inFig. 11(a), the sputtered NiO film was composed of a 350-nm-thick lower-side lightly doped layer (p = 5.1 × 1017 cm−3) and a 100-nm-thick upper-side heavily doped layer (p = 3.6 × 1019 cm−3). Compared with the single-layered device (S2), the double-layered device (S1) demonstrated an enhanced BV from 0.94 to 1.86 kV, as shown inFig. 11(b). Liaoet al.[49] thoroughly optimized the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs by performing both experimental study and technology computer-aided design (TCAD) simulation. It was revealed that the bottom lightly doped NiO layer could smoothen the electric field, while the upper heavily doped NiO layer can reduce theRon,sp by lowering the metal-to-NiO contact resistance. In addition, verified by the TCAD simulation, the electric field peak of the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJDs located at the edge of the p+-NiO layer rather than the p-NiO layer, and enlarging the dimension of the bottom p-NiO layer can effectively suppress the electric field peak, as shown inFig. 12. The influence of the bottom NiO layer thickness was studied by Liet al.[69]. The device schematic is shown inFig. 13(a). The upper NiO layer (p = 2.6 × 1019 cm−3) was fixed at 10 nm, while the thickness of the bottom NiO layer (p = 3 × 1018 cm−3) ranged from 10 nm to 80 nm. The BV showed a negative correlation with the thickness of the bottom NiO layer, as shown inFig. 13(b).

    (Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) the reverse I–V characteristics of the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. Reproduced from Ref. [68]. Copyright 2020, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 11.(Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) the reverse I–V characteristics of the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode. Reproduced from Ref. [68]. Copyright 2020, AIP Publishing.

    (Color online) (a) Simulated two-dimensional electric field distributions in the vicinity of the NiO and anode electrode at a reverse bias of 1000 V for the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD and (b) line profile of simulated electric field along the surface of the β-Ga2O3 drift layer for the HJD with varied W’ (W’ = Rp−NiO − Rp+NiO). Reproduced from Ref. [49]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    Figure 12.(Color online) (a) Simulated two-dimensional electric field distributions in the vicinity of the NiO and anode electrode at a reverse bias of 1000 V for the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD and (b) line profile of simulated electric field along the surface of the β-Ga2O3 drift layer for the HJD with varied W’ (W’ = Rp−NiO − Rp+NiO). Reproduced from Ref. [49]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    (Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) the reverse I–V characteristics of the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with varied thickness of the bottom NiO layer. Reproduced from Ref. [69]. Copyright 2022, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 13.(Color online) (a) Device schematic and (b) the reverse I–V characteristics of the double-layered NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with varied thickness of the bottom NiO layer. Reproduced from Ref. [69]. Copyright 2022, AIP Publishing.

    Zhouet al.[70] demonstrated a novel beveled-mesa NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD, as shown inFig. 14. By precisely adjusting the gap between the mask andβ-Ga2O3 wafer as well as the declination angle of the NiO target with respect to the substrate surface normal, the double-layered NiO film with a small beveled angle was formed. The fabricated large-area (1 mm2) HJDs performed a lowRon,sp of 2.26 mΩ·cm2 and a high BV of 2.04 kV, leading to a BFOM of 1.84 GW/cm2. A remarkable BV of 8.32 kV was achieved in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 HJD[62] by employing the double-layered NiO structure and advanced edge terminations of an FP and an Mg-implanted guard ring. Ion implantation in the device periphery to form a high-resistivity region can effectively relieve the electric field crowing effect and improve the breakdown voltage in power devices.Fig. 15 shows the schematic andI–V characteristics of the device. A lowRon,sp of 5.24 mΩ·cm2 was obtained for the 8.32 kV HJD, and the BFOM of 13.21 GW/cm2 was the highest value among all the reportedβ-Ga2O3 power devices so far.

    (Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with bevel mesa. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [70]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 14.(Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with bevel mesa. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [70]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    (Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with double NiO layer and edge termination. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [62].

    Figure 15.(Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction diode with double NiO layer and edge termination. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [62].

    3.2. NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JBS

    Schottky barrier diodes (SBDs) possess properties of low turn-on voltage and fast switching speed. Meanwhile, pn diodes have the advantages of low leakage current and good surge handling capability. The JBS devices can combine the advantages of SBDs and p–n diodes.

    The first NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JBS was demonstrated by Lvet al.[32].Fig. 16 shows the schematic and theI–V characteristics of the JBS device. The NiO layer (p = 1 × 1018 cm−3) with a thickness of 60 nm was formed by thermally oxidizing Ni metal. The fabricated JBS showed a lowVon of ~1 V, slightly higher than the reference SBD (~0.7 V). The BV of the JBS was as high as 1715 V, far superior to that of the reference SBD (655 V). However, these JBSs suffered from a huge reverse leakage current under a high electric field, and the leakage mechanism was determined to be a Pool-Frenkel (PF) emission, which refers to the electric-field-enhanced thermal excitation of electrons from a trapped state into a continuum of electronic states[71]. According to the Arrhenius plots of the reverse leakage current vs. 1000/T measured at various reverse biases, the emission barrier height was determined to beEC – 0.72 eV below the conduction band, which is consistent with the energy level of gallium vacancies (VGa)[72]. It indicated that in such a JBS structure, the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction failed to suppress the reverse leakage current through the Schottky contact region. To address this issue, the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JBSs with etched fin structures were developed[73]. The fin structures on theβ-Ga2O3 drift layer were firstly formed by reactive ion etching (RIE), and then the trenches between the fins were filled with sputtered p-NiO, as schematically shown inFig. 17(a). With the fin structures, the pn heterojunction depleted laterally at the reverse bias, which lowered the density of free carriers left in theβ-Ga2O3 channel; thus, the fin structures would help to suppress the leakage current through the Schottky contact region. Three JBSs with different fin widths were fabricated. TheVon andRon,sp of the JBSs were measured to be 1.7 V/2.45 mΩ·cm2, 1.5 V/1.94 mΩ·cm2, and 1.45 V/1.91 mΩ·cm2, for the fin width of 1.5, 3, and 5μm, respectively. Since the forwardI–V characteristics of a JBS should be mainly determined by its Schottky contact region, the device had a greater proportion of Schottky contact area showed a closer value ofVon andRon,sp to an SBD. However, the measured BV of the JBSs did not show a strong dependence on the fin width. Though the reverse leakage current was partially suppressed by using the fin structures, the dry etching process produced high-density deep-level traps at theβ-Ga2O3 surface, which might introduce excess leakage current[74,75]. A post-etching treatment process would be helpful to remove the defects from the etchedβ-Ga2O3 surface, for example, surface treatment using a hot tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) solution[76]. At present, high reverse leakage current is still the remaining issue that hinders the development of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JBSs.

    (Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JBS diode. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [32]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    Figure 16.(Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JBS diode. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [32]. Copyright 2021, IEEE.

    (Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JBS diode with fin structure. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices with different fin widths. Reproduced from Ref. [73]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 17.(Color online) (a) Cross-sectional schematic of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JBS diode with fin structure. The (b) forward and (c) reverse I–V characteristics of the devices with different fin widths. Reproduced from Ref. [73]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    3.3. NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JFET

    The development of lateralβ-Ga2O3 field-effect transistors (FETs) has achieved remarkable progress[77-80]. However, the reported device performance is still far from the projected material limitation ofβ-Ga2O3. The channel doping level and thickness must be carefully designed to ensure an effective channel pinch-off in a lateral FET and obtain a good balance between theRon,sp and BV. Theβ-Ga2O3 JFETs based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions have been proposed by Wanget al. for the first time[33], as shown inFig. 18(a). The employed p-NiO gate provided a vertical depletion to theβ-Ga2O3 channel and facilitated the channel pinch-off. Therefore, a relatively thicker channel and higher channel doping concentration could be used in the device to minimize theRon,sp without sacrificing the BV. On the other hand, the lateral depletion of the heterojunction in the channel could help smooth the electric field at the drain-side-gate-edge and boost the BV of the JFETs. The fabricated devices exhibited a lowRon,sp of 3.19 mΩ·cm2 and a high BV of 1115 V, yielding a BFOM of 0.39 GW/cm2. Using a gate-recessed architecture, a normally-off operation has been realized in the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction JFETs[81]. As schematically shown inFig. 18(b), the 200 nm channel was recessed down to 80 nm in the gate region by an inductively coupled plasma (ICP) etching process, and a 50 nm p-NiO gate was sputtered. A positive threshold voltage (Vth) of +0.9 V was achieved.

    (Color online) Cross-sectional schematic of (a) the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JFET and (b) the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JFET with recessed gate. Reproduced from Refs. [33, 81]. Copyright 2021 and 2022, IEEE.

    Figure 18.(Color online) Cross-sectional schematic of (a) the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JFET and (b) the NiO/β-Ga2O3 JFET with recessed gate. Reproduced from Refs. [33, 81]. Copyright 2021 and 2022, IEEE.

    4. NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction-based edge terminations and super-junctions

    Various edge termination techniques, such as FP[19,82], ion-implanted GR[20,83,84], and thermally oxidized terminations[85], have been developed to relieve the electric field crowding and enhance the BV of theβ-Ga2O3 power device.

    The field limiting ring (FLR) using p–n junctions is an effective structure to suppress the electric field peak at the device edge, which is commonly used in SiC power devices[86]. An improved BV has been reported inβ-Ga2O3 SBDs by adopting a NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction-based FLR[71], as shown inFig. 19(a). Compared to the device without the FLR, the average BV was increased from 0.43 to 0.75 kV. A TCAD simulation was carried out to investigate the influence of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction FLR on the electric field distribution of the devices under a reverse bias. As shown inFig. 19(b), the electric field spread out into the FLR structures, and the crowding of the electric field at the device edge was effectively mitigated.

    (Color online) (a) Schematic of β-Ga2O3 SBD with FLR. (b) Two-dimensional electric field distribution at a reverse bias of 1.89 kV for β-Ga2O3 SBD with FLR. Reproduced from Ref. [71]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 19.(Color online) (a) Schematic of β-Ga2O3 SBD with FLR. (b) Two-dimensional electric field distribution at a reverse bias of 1.89 kV for β-Ga2O3 SBD with FLR. Reproduced from Ref. [71]. Copyright 2021, AIP Publishing.

    The p-NiO guard ring has also been employed inβ-Ga2O3 SBDs[34]. As shown inFig. 20, a 300-nm trench was etched in theβ-Ga2O3 drift layer and subsequently filled with sputtered p-NiO (p = 1 × 1018 cm−3) to construct the guard ring. The SBDs showed an improved BV of 1130 V by introducing the p-NiO guard ring compared to a BV of 300 V for SBDs without the guard ring. By further implementation of an FP structure, the BV was boosted to 1860 V.

    (Color online) (a) Schematic of β-Ga2O3 SBD with NiO guard ring and FP termination. (b) Reverse I–V characteristics of β-Ga2O3 SBD without and with termination structure. Reproduced from Ref. [34]. Copyright 2022, AIP Publishing.

    Figure 20.(Color online) (a) Schematic of β-Ga2O3 SBD with NiO guard ring and FP termination. (b) Reverse I–V characteristics of β-Ga2O3 SBD without and with termination structure. Reproduced from Ref. [34]. Copyright 2022, AIP Publishing.

    Super-junction (SJ) is a promising technique to manage the electric field in power devices[87-90], which has been successfully commercialized in Si devices[91,92] and also introduced in GaN and SiC devices[93-95]. With an alternative arrangement of p-type and n-type stripes, the SJ structure can uniform the electric field distribution in the drift layer, relying on the charge balance principle[96]. Wanget al.[35] demonstrated a novel super-junctionβ-Ga2O3 MOSFET based on the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunctions, as shown inFig. 21. Trenches in theβ-Ga2O3 drift layer were formed using ICP etching and then filled with sputtered NiO (p = 1 × 1018 cm−3). Compared with a co-fabricated conventional MOSFET, the SJ MOSFETs exhibited an improved BFOM by 4.86 times.

    (Color online) (a) 3-D schematic of the fabricated β-Ga2O3 SJ-equivalent MOSFET. (b) Measured ID–VD curves of the devices. (c) Reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [35]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    Figure 21.(Color online) (a) 3-D schematic of the fabricated β-Ga2O3 SJ-equivalent MOSFET. (b) Measured ID–VD curves of the devices. (c) Reverse I–V characteristics of the devices. Reproduced from Ref. [35]. Copyright 2022, IEEE.

    5. Summary and prospects

    Still at the very early stage of development, the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction has shown great potential for application inβ-Ga2O3 power electronics. In this review, we summarized the state-of-the-art device technology and development of NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction power devices. Despite the encouraging progress, some crucial issues still exist for practical application.

    First, developing high-qualityβ-Ga2O3 material, including both the substrate and the epi film, is the cornerstone for future improvement of the power devices. The unintentional impurities, defects, and dislocations within theβ-Ga2O3 crystal can significantly affect the device performances regarding leakage current, electrical conductivity, device reliability, etc.

    The device structure optimization is essential to further enhance the device voltage blocking capability. As mentioned, the double NiO layers, FP structures, and ion-implanted GRs are all feasible solutions. Still, further improvements in the details of these structures remain. For example, the dielectric layer’s materials, thickness, and deposition process are critical factors for an FP structure. As for the ion-implanted GRs, more investigation is needed on different implanted ions, the profiles of the implanted region, and the post-implantation annealing conditions.

    Trap states at the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction interface can cause large hysteresis and excess reverse leakage current. As mentioned, a PDA process is an effective method to improve the heterojunction interface quality. However, the forward conduction can be degraded by annealing since the hole concentration of the NiO layer decreases. Surface treatment using solutions or a plasma process is also a practical method to remove the defects at theβ-Ga2O3 surface and realize a high-quality hetero-interface.

    Device reliability is very important for the commercial application of the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction power devices, especially at high temperatures. The sputtered NiO layer usually faces a thermal stability issue, whose hole concentration usually reduces at high temperatures. The reliability verifications for the NiO/β-Ga2O3 heterojunction devices are still lacking and awaiting future exploration.

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    Xing Lu, Yuxin Deng, Yanli Pei, Zimin Chen, Gang Wang. Recent advances in NiO/Ga2O3 heterojunctions for power electronics[J]. Journal of Semiconductors, 2023, 44(6): 061802

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    Paper Information

    Category: Articles

    Received: Dec. 27, 2022

    Accepted: --

    Published Online: Jul. 6, 2023

    The Author Email: Lu Xing (stswangg@mail.sysu.edu.cn), Deng Yuxin (stswangg@mail.sysu.edu.cn), Pei Yanli (stswangg@mail.sysu.edu.cn), Chen Zimin (stswangg@mail.sysu.edu.cn), Wang Gang (stswangg@mail.sysu.edu.cn)

    DOI:10.1088/1674-4926/44/6/061802

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