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AlGaN/GaN HFET reliability

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3 Author(s)
Trew, R.J. ; ECE Dept., North Carolina State Univ., Raleigh, NC ; Green, D.S. ; Shealy, J.B.

High-voltage AlGaN/GaN HFETs can produce high RF output power with nearly ideal power-added efficiency. But widespread adoption of these HFETs has been limited by a lack of acceptable reliability data for practical communications and radar applications. Device problems that have been observed include dc current and RF output power degradation as a function of time when the device is operating. Sudden and permanent degradation shifts in device performance have also been observed under certain operating conditions. Identified causes of the reliability problems include the quantum mechanical tunneling of electrons on the gate electrode to the surface of the semiconductor adjacent to the gate on the drain side, and a defect generation mechanism that occurs at a high, critical electric field. The gate leakage phenomenon described in this article produces electrons on the surface of the AlGaN layer adjacent to the gate electrode, and this creates a negative charge layer that partially depletes the conducting channel, thereby producing a degradation in dc current and RF output power. The gate leakage current is present when the device is biased and driven with an RF signal, and therefore the charge accumulation increases as a function of operation time. The gate tunnel current is a very sensitive function of surface state density, particularly near the gate edge, and of the magnitude of the electric field at this location. In addition, at a critical magnitude of the electric field defects in the AlGaN layer are created due to mechanical stress on the crystal structure, and these defects act as charge trapping centers. This mechanism is not well understood at this time and is currently the subject of research and investigation. Parameters that affect reliability are a function of device design and surface processing. Improvements in device reliability have been achieved through design modifications to produce improved surface passivation layers that reduce the gate and surf- ace leakage currents and further modifications to reduce the magnitude of the electric field internal to the device. Continuing reliability study is required to fully elucidate the link between observed degradation behavior and physical failure mechanisms in a statistically significant manner.

Published in:

Microwave Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:10 ,  Issue: 4 )

Date of Publication:

June 2009

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