By Ed Korczynski, Sr. Technical Editor, SST/SemiMD
The IC fabrication industry is approaching the end of the road for device miniaturization, with both atomic and economic limits looming on the horizon. New materials are widely considered as key to the future of profitable innovation in ICs, so everyone from process engineers to business pundits needs to examine the Emerging Research Materials (ERM) chapter of the just published 2013 edition of the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS).
The 2013 ITRS covers both near-term (2014-2020) and long-term (2020 onward) perspectives on what materials and processes would be desired to build ideal ICs (Fig. 1, Table ERM15). However, to properly understand the information in the current edition we need to consider the changes in the IC fab industry since 1992 when the first edition of the ITRS’s predecessor was published as the U.S. National Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (NTRS).
Twenty-two years ago, the industry had dozens of fabs working on next-generation technology, and with lithographic scaling dominating innovation there was broad consensus on gradual materials evolutions. Today, the industry has 3 logic fabs and about as many memory lines pushing processes to smaller geometries, and each fab may use significantly different revolutionary materials. The result today is that there is little consensus on direction for new materials, and at best we can quantify the relative benefits of choosing one or another of the many options available.
In fact, with just a few players left in the game, there is much to lose for any one player to disclose strategic plans such as the use of revolutionary materials. Mark Thirsk, managing partner with specialty materials analysts Linx Consulting, commented, “We built our business based on anonymizing and generalizing the world, and then predicting the future based on big categorical buckets. But now there are a very few number of people pushing the boundaries and we’re being asked to model specific fab processes such as those for Intel or TSMC.”
For all of the above reasons, the current ITRS might be better understood as a scouting report that quantifies the roughness of the terrain when our current roads end. Exotic materials such as graphene and indium-gallium-phosphide may be used as alternate materials for the Si channels in transistors, novel stacks of atomic-layers may be used as electrical contacts, and spintronics and single-electron devices may one day replace DRAM and Flash chips for solid-state memory chips. However, “significant challenges” exist in integrating any of these new technologies into high-volume manufacturing.
In the near-term, Cu wires clad with various metal barriers are projected to provide the best overall performance for on-chip interconnects. As stated in the 2013 Executive Summary, “Unfortunately no new breakthroughs are reported for interconnections since no viable materials with resistivity below copper exist. However, progress in manipulation of edgeless wrapped materials (e.g., carbon nanotubes, graphene combinations etc.) offer the promise of ‘ballistic conductors,’ which may emerge in the next decade.”
Specialty Materials Suppliers
Figure 2 (Figure ERM5) shows the inherent complexity involved in the stages of developing a new chemical precursor for use in commercial IC production. The chapter summarizes the intrinsic difficulty of atomic-scale R&D for future chips as follows:
A critical ERM factor for improving emerging devices, interconnects, and package technologies is the ability to characterize and control embedded interface properties. As features approach the nanometer scale, fundamental thermodynamic stability considerations and fluctuations may limit the ability to fabricate materials with tight dimensional distributions and controlled useful material properties.
In addition to daunting technical issues with pre-cursor R&D, the business model for chemical suppliers is being strained by industry consolidation and by dimensional shrinks. Consolidation means that each fab has unique pre-cursor requirements, so there may be just one customer for a requested chemistry and no ability to get a return on the investment if the customer decides to use a different approach.
Shrinks down to atomic dimensions means that just milliliters instead of liters of chemistry may be needed. For example, atomic-layer deposition (ALD) precursor R&D requires expertise and investment in molecular- and chemical-engineering, and so significant sunk costs to create any specialty molecule in research quantities. “We’ll have an explosion of precursors required based on proprietary IP held by different companies,” reminds Thirsk. “The people who are being asked to develop the supply-chain of ever increasing specifications are simultaneously being squeezed on margin and volumes.”
For materials such as Co, Ru, La, and Ti-alloys to be used in fabs we need to develop more than just deposition and metrology steps. We will also likely require atomic-level processes for cleaning and etch/CMP, which can trigger a need for yet another custom material solution.
Established chemical suppliers—such as Air Liquide, Dow, DuPont, Linde, Praxair, and SAFC—run international businesses serving many industries. IC manufacturing is just a small portion of their businesses, and they can afford to simply walk-away from the industry if the ROI seems unattractive. “We’re finding more and more that, for example in wet cleaning chemistry, the top line of the market is flat,” cautioned Thirsk. “You can find some specialty chemistries that provide better profits, but the dynamics of the market are such that there’s reduced volume and reduced profitability. So where will the innovation come from?”
Alternate Channel Materials
With finFETs and SOI now both capable of running in fully-depleted mode, alternative materials to strained silicon are being extensively explored to provide higher MOSFET performance at reduced power. Examples include III-V semiconductors, Ge, graphene, carbon nanotubes, and other semiconductor nanowires (NW). To achieve complimentary MOS high performance, co-integration of different materials (i.e. III-V and Ge) on Si may be necessary. Significant materials issues such as defect reduction, interface chemistry, metal contact resistivity, and process integration must be addressed before such improvements can be achieved.
Top down fabricated nanowires (NW) are one-dimensional structures that can be derived from two-dimensional finFETs. Patterned and etched <5nm Si NW have been reported to have room temperature quantum oscillatory behavior with back-gate voltage with a peak mobility approaching ∼900 cm2/Vs. Despite extensive R&D, grown Si NW demonstrate no performance improvements over patterned-and-etched NW, and controlled growth in desired locations remains extraordinarily challenging. Overall, significant challenges must be overcome for NW to be integrated in high density, particularly when targeting laterally placed NW with surround gates and low resistance contacts.