5-4-4-2 SiC Epitaxial Growth Polytype Control
Homoepitaxial growth, whereby the polytype of the SiC epilayer matches the polytype of the SiC substrate, is accomplished by “step-controlled” epitaxy . Step-controlled epitaxy is based upon growing epilayers on an SiC wafer polished at an angle (called the “tilt-angle” or “off-axis angle”) of typically 3°–8° off the (0 0 0 1) basal plane, resulting in a surface with atomic steps and relatively long, flat terraces between steps. When growth conditions are properly controlled and there is a sufficiently short distance between steps, Si and C adatoms impinging onto the growth surface find their way to step risers, where they bond and incorporate into the crystal. Thus, ordered, lateral “step-flow” growth takes place which enables the polytypic stacking sequence of the substrate to be exactly mirrored in the growing epilayer. SiC wafers cut with nonconventional surface orientations such as () and ( ), provide a favorable surface geometry for epilayers to inherit stacking sequence (i.e., polytype) via step flow from the substrate .
When growth conditions are not properly controlled when steps are too far apart, as can occur with poorly prepared SiC substrate surfaces that are polished to within <1° of the (0 0 0 1) basal plane, growth adatoms island nucleate and bond in the middle of terraces instead of at the steps. Uncontrolled island nucleation (also referred to as terrace nucleation) on SiC surfaces leads to heteroepitaxial growth of poor-quality 3C-SiC . To help prevent spurious terrace nucleation of 3C-SiC during epitaxial growth, most commercial 4H- and 6H-SiC substrates are polished to tilt angles of 8° and 3.5° off the (0 0 0 1) basal plane, respectively. To date, all commercial SiC electronics rely on homoepitaxial layers that are grown on these “off-axis” prepared (0 0 0 1) c-axis SiC wafers.
Proper removal of residual surface contamination and defects left over from the SiC wafer cutting and polishing process is also vital to obtaining high-quality SiC epilayers with minimal dislocation defects. Techniques employed to better prepare the SiC wafer surface prior to epitaxial growth range from dry etching to chemical-mechanical polishing (CMP) . As the SiC wafer is heated up in a growth chamber in preparation for initiation of epilayer growth, a high-temperature in-situ pregrowth gaseous etch (typically using H2 and/or HCl) is usually carried out to further eliminate surface contamination and defects . It is worth noting that optimized pregrowth processing enables step-flow growth of high-quality homoepilayers even when the substrate tilt angle is reduced to <0.1° off-axis from the (0 0 0 1) basal plane . In this case, axial screw dislocations are required to provide a continual spiral template of steps needed to grow epilayers in the <0 0 0 1> direction while maintaining the hexagonal polytype of the substrate .