Semiconductor Manufacturers Can Develop Denser and More Efficient Chips with 2D Materials: Here’s How
According to the Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA), the semiconductor industry created around $550 billion market in 2021 and is anticipated to grow significantly to reach $650 billion in 2022 with increased demand for semiconductor chips.
With the increasing demand for faster and more powerful devices, the need for more advanced semiconductor materials arises simultaneously.
Traditional silicon-based semiconductors have limitations such as approaching their physical size limits, limited capacity to handle high-speed data transfer, and are unsuitable for extreme environments.
Thus, to address the growing consumer demand, two-dimensional (2D) materials are rapidly emerging as a promising alternative to traditional silicon-based semiconductors.
2D materials, such as graphene and transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs), have unique properties that make them ideal candidates for developing denser and more efficient semiconductor chips.
In this article, we will explore how semiconductor manufacturers can leverage 2D materials to create the next generation of high-performance electronics with more advanced and powerful chips.
Promising Properties of 2D Materials
As a category of nanomaterials, 2D materials are characterized by their extremely thin size, typically only one or two atoms thick.
The most well-known 2D material is graphene, but there are several other materials that fall into this category, such as hexagonal boron nitride, MXenes, and black phosphorus.
2D materials are known for their exceptional properties, which make them useful in a range of applications, including semiconductors, consumer electronics, aerospace and defense, biomedical devices, composites and coatings, automobiles, and energy storage.
Moreover, exceptional properties that make 2D materials appealing for developing more powerful and efficient semiconductor chips are as follows:
High electrical conductivity: 2D materials exhibit high electrical conductivity, which is a crucial property for electronic devices. This allows for an efficient flow of electrical current through the material, resulting in faster and more powerful devices.
High thermal conductivity: 2D materials also have high thermal conductivity, which is important for devices that generate heat, such as processors and memory chips. The high thermal conductivity of 2D materials enables efficient dissipation of heat, reducing the risk of device failure and enabling the development of more efficient chips.
High strength and stiffness: Despite their thin size, 2D materials are incredibly strong and stiff, making them ideal for use in electronic devices that require durability and reliability. Through this property, 2D materials can enable the fabrication of smaller and more densely packed transistors, resulting in higher chip densities and improved functionality.
High optical transparency: Some 2D materials, such as graphene and hexagonal boron nitride, have high optical transparency, which is important for optical devices such as touch screens and display panels. These materials allow light to pass through with minimal loss, resulting in high-quality images and better device performance.
Large surface area: 2D materials have a large surface area-to-volume ratio, which enables increased surface reactivity and improved device performance. This property makes them ideal for use in sensors and other electronic devices that require high sensitivity and precision.
Moreover, these unique properties of 2D materials are leading to their adoption and heightened demand in multiple industries, including semiconductor and electronics manufacturing, which is also driving significant growth in the market.
According to data insights from BIS Research, the global 2D materials market is projected to reach $4,000 million by 2031 from $526.1 million in 2022, growing at a CAGR of 25.3% during the forecast period 2022–2031.
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The implementation of 2D materials in semiconductor manufacturing poses several challenges. One of the most significant hurdles is the fabrication of these materials. The current production methods are not scalable for industrial manufacturing, making it challenging to produce these materials on a large scale. Fabricating 2D materials is a complex and delicate process, requiring precise control of the thickness and purity of the materials, which restricts their mass production and commercial use in the industry.
Moreover, integrating 2D materials into existing manufacturing processes can be a challenge due to their unique properties, which differ from traditional semiconductor materials. The integration process must consider these differences to ensure compatibility and optimal performance. This requires a comprehensive understanding of the properties and behavior of 2D materials, which can be challenging to obtain.
Another significant challenge associated with 2D materials is their stability. They are highly reactive and can be easily degraded by moisture and oxygen, which can affect their stability and reliability. This makes it challenging to store and handle these materials, which can limit their commercial viability.
Furthermore, the cost of producing 2D materials is currently higher than traditional semiconductor materials, which poses an additional challenge and limits their widespread adoption in consumer electronics and other applications.
Overcoming the Fabrication Challenge with MIT Engineered Growth Technology
To meet the essential requirements of big data processing and analytics, artificial intelligence (AI), and Internet of Things (IoT) technology applications and continuous miniaturization of electronic devices, the semiconductor industry needs to keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for higher performance, lower power consumption, and denser integration.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers have made a significant advancement in this area by developing a new technology that enables the growth of 2D transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD) materials directly onto a fully fabricated silicon chip.
The integration of TMD materials with existing silicon-based technologies creates new possibilities for advanced applications in electronics, optoelectronics, and photonics.
The research paper written by lead authors Jiadi Zhu, an electrical engineering and computer science student, and Ji-Hoon Park, an MIT postdoctoral, and other corresponding authors has been published in the journal Nature Nanotechnology on April 27, 2023.
The process of growing 2D materials onto a silicon complementary metal-oxide-semiconductor (CMOS) wafer has been challenging because it usually requires high temperatures of about 600 degrees Celsius. Also, Silicon transistors and circuits can break down when heated above 400 degrees Celsius, making it difficult to integrate the 2D materials directly into the silicon circuits.
To eliminate these challenges, MIT researchers developed a low-temperature growth and fabrication technology that does not harm the chip, allowing for direct integration of 2D semiconductor transistors onto standard silicon circuits.
Unlike the past method of growing 2D materials elsewhere and transferring them onto a wafer, this new process creates a smooth and uniform layer across the entire 8-inch wafer, preventing imperfections that can affect the final devices and circuits’ performance.
Moreover, the new technology grows a uniform layer of 2D materials in less than an hour over entire 8-inch wafers, reducing growth time significantly. This allows integration onto larger surfaces, making it suitable for commercial applications that require wafers larger than 8 inches.
Jiadi Zhu, co-lead author of the paper, said, “Using 2D materials is a powerful way to increase the density of an integrated circuit. What we are doing is like constructing a multistory building. If you have only one floor, which is the conventional case, it won’t hold many people. But with more floors, the building will hold more people that can enable amazing new things. Thanks to the heterogeneous integration we are working on, we have silicon as the first floor, and then we can have many floors of 2D materials directly integrated on top.”
The researchers focused on a flexible and transparent 2D material called molybdenum disulfide that has powerful electronic and photonic properties, making it ideal for a semiconductor transistor.
However, growing thin films of this material on a surface with good uniformity is often difficult due to the high temperatures required in the metal-organic chemical vapor deposition process.
To overcome this, the researchers designed and built a new furnace with two chambers that allow for the decomposition of the molybdenum and sulfur precursors at different temperatures, low temperature in the front and high temperature in the back, enabling the growth of a uniform layer of molybdenum disulfide on a silicon wafer in less than an hour.
Moreover, to prevent the sulfurization of aluminum and copper during this process, the researchers deposited a thin layer of passivation material on top of the chip before making connections.
They also improved the growth of molybdenum disulfide and achieved better material uniformity by placing the silicon wafer vertically in the furnace, allowing for better circulation of the molybdenum and sulfur gas molecules.
Furthermore, the MIT researchers aim to further improve their technology to grow many stacked layers of 2D transistors and explore the use of low-temperature growth for flexible surfaces like polymers and textiles, which could lead to the integration of semiconductors onto everyday objects, such as clothing or notebooks.
In the coming years, the electronics and semiconductor industry are expected to increasingly rely on 2D materials to address key challenges in areas such as energy efficiency, miniaturization, and integration with other technologies.
For instance, the use of 2D materials in transistors has already shown great potential for enabling faster and more energy-efficient computing. To add on, 2D materials are expected to play an important role in developing high-performance sensors, flexible and transparent displays, and other novel electronic devices.
As research advances and production costs decrease, we can expect to see an increasing number of 2D materials-based products and solutions in the market.
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