SiO x /SiN y multilayers for photovoltaic and photonic applications
© Nalini et al; licensee Springer. 2012
Received: 11 October 2011
Accepted: 14 February 2012
Published: 14 February 2012
Microstructural, electrical, and optical properties of undoped and Nd3+-doped SiO x /SiN y multilayers fabricated by reactive radio frequency magnetron co-sputtering have been investigated with regard to thermal treatment. This letter demonstrates the advantages of using SiN y as the alternating sublayer instead of SiO2. A high density of silicon nanoclusters of the order 1019 nc/cm3 is achieved in the SiO x sublayers. Enhanced conductivity, emission, and absorption are attained at low thermal budget, which are promising for photovoltaic applications. Furthermore, the enhancement of Nd3+ emission in these multilayers in comparison with the SiO x /SiO2 counterparts offers promising future photonic applications.
PACS: 88.40.fh (Advanced materials development), 81.15.cd (Deposition by sputtering), 78.67.bf (Nanocrystals, nanoparticles, and nanoclusters).
KeywordsSiOx/SiNy multilayers Nd3+ doping photoluminescence XRD absorption coefficient conductivity
Silicon nanoclusters [Si-ncs] with engineered band gap  have attracted the photonic and the photovoltaic industries as potential light sources, optical interconnectors, and efficient light absorbers [2–5]. Multilayers [MLs] of silicon-rich silicon oxide [SiO x ] alternated with SiO2 became increasingly popular due to the precise control on the density and size distribution of Si-ncs [6, 7]. Moreover, the efficiency of light emission from SiO x -based MLs exceeds that of the single SiO x layers with equivalent thickness due to the narrower Si-nc size distribution. The ML approach is also a powerful tool to investigate and control the emission of rare-earth [RE] dopants, for example, Er-doped SiO x /SiO2 MLs . It also allows us to control the excitation mechanism of the RE ions by adjusting the optimal interaction distance between the Si-ncs and the RE ions. However, achieving electroluminescence and hence extending its usage for photovoltaic applications are problematic due to the high resistivity caused by SiO2 barrier layers . Hence, replacement of the SiO2 sublayer by alternative dielectrics becomes interesting. Due to the lower potential barrier and better electrical transport properties of silicon nitride [Si3N4] in comparison to SiO2, multilayers like SiO x /Si3N4 , Si-rich Si3N4 (SiN y )/Si3N4 , and Si-rich Si3N4/SiO2  were proposed and investigated  for their optical and electrical properties.
In this letter, we investigate SiO x /SiN y MLs and compare them with the SiO x /SiO2 counterparts reported earlier [9, 14]. We demonstrate that an enhancement in the conductive and light-emitting properties of SiO x /SiN y MLs can be achieved with a reduced thermal budget. We also report a pioneering study on Nd-doped SiO x /SiN y MLs. A comparison between the properties of Nd3+-doped SiO x /SiO2 and SiO x /SiN y MLs are presented, and we show the benefits of using SiN y sublayers to achieve enhanced emission from Nd3+ ions.
Undoped and Nd-doped 3.5-nm SiO x /5-nm SiN y (50 periods) MLs were deposited at 500°C on a 2-inch p-Si substrate by radio frequency [RF] magnetron co-sputtering of Si and SiO2 targets in hydrogen-rich plasma for the SiO x sublayers and a pure Si target in nitrogen-rich plasma for the SiN y sublayers. An additional Nd2O3 target was used to dope the SiO x and SiN y sublayers by Nd3+ ions. More details on the growth process can be found elsewhere . The excess Si content in the corresponding SiO x and SiN y single layers obtained from RBS studies are calculated to be 25 and 11 at.%, respectively (i.e., SiOx = 1and SiNy = 1.03). Conventional furnace annealing under nitrogen atmosphere at different temperatures, TA = 400 to 1,100°C, and times, tA = 1 to 60 min, was performed on the MLs. X-ray diffraction analysis was performed using a Phillips XPERT HPD Pro device (PANalytical, Almelo, The Netherlands) with CuKα radiation (λ = 0.1514 nm) at a fixed grazing angle incidence of 0.5°. Asymmetric grazing geometry was chosen to increase the volume of material interacting with the X-ray beam and to eliminate the contribution of the Si substrate. Photoluminescence [PL] spectra were recorded in the 550- to 1,150-nm spectral range using the Triax 180 Jobin Yvon monochromator (HORIBA Jobin Yvon SAS, Longjumeau, Paris, France) with an R5108 Hamamatsu PM tube (Hamamatsu, Shizuoka, Japan). The 488-nm Ar+ laser line served as the excitation source. All the PL spectra were corrected by the spectral response of the experimental setup. Top and rear-side gold contacts were deposited on the MLs by sputtering for electrical characterization. Current-voltage measurements were carried out using a SUSS Microtec EP4 two-probe apparatus (SUSS Microtec, Germany) equipped with Keithley devices (Keithly, Cleveland, OH, USA). Energy-filtered transmission electron microscopy [EFTEM] was carried out on a cross-sectional specimen using a TEM-FEG microscope Tecnai F20ST (FEI, Eindhoven, The Netherlands) equipped with an energy filter TRIDIEM from Gatan (Gatan, München, Germany). The EFTEM images were obtained by inserting an energy-selecting slit in the energy-dispersive plane of the filter at the Si (17 eV) and at the SiO2 (23 eV) plasmon energy, with a width of ± 2 eV.
Results and discussions
Effect of annealing on the PL
It was observed that the PL signals from the MLs annealed during tA = 60 min are significant only at lower temperatures (TA = 400°C to 700°C), and high intensities are obtained when the samples are annealed at high temperatures for a short time (TA = 900°C to 1,000°C, tA = 1 min). It is interesting to note that an interplay between TA and tA can yield similar PL efficiencies, as can be seen for TA = 900°C and tA = 1 min, and TA = 700°C and tA = 15 min (Figure 2a).
The highest PL intensity in SiO x /SiN y MLs was obtained with TA = 1,000°C and tA = 1 min (Figure 2b,c), whereas the SiO x /SiO2 MLs showed no emission after such short-time annealing treatment (Figure 2a). Corresponding XRD pattern of this short-time annealed [STA] (STA = 1 min, 1,000°C) SiO x /SiNy showed a broad peak in the range 2θ = 20° to 30° which is absent in STA SiO x /SiO2 MLs (Figure 1, curves 3 and 4). This suggests the presence of small Si clusters in the SiO x /SiN y MLs, with lower sizes (broader peak) by comparison with higher annealing temperature (1,100°C; Figure 1, curves 1 and 2). However, we cannot distinguish which of the sublayer is at the origin of the PL emission. Consequently, the recorded PL may be a combined contribution of the Si-ncs in the SiO x sublayers and the localized bandtail defect states in the SiN y sublayers.
Absorption and electrical studies
Considering a balance between light emission and absorption for photovoltaic applications, we chose to study STA SiO x /SiN y MLs with a total thickness of 850 nm for electrical measurements. Figure 3b compares the dark current curves of 3.5-nm SiO x /5-nm SiN y with our earlier reported 3.5-nm SiO x /3.5-nm SiO2 (140 nm) MLs . The resistivity was calculated at 7.5 V to be 2.15 and 214 MΩ·cm in the SiO x /SiNy and SiO x /SiO2 MLs, respectively. Since the thickness of the SiO x sublayer is the same in both cases (3.5 nm), this decrease in the resistivity of the SiO x /SiNy MLs can be ascribed to the substitution of 3.5-nm SiO2 by 5-nm SiN y sublayers. This hundred-times enhanced conductivity at low voltage paves way for further improvement of the SiO x /SiN y MLs' conductivity, for example, by decreasing the thickness of this SiN y sublayer.
Effect of Nd3+-doping
In conclusion, we show that SiO x /SiN y MLs fabricated by RF magnetron sputtering can be engineered as structures for photovoltaic and photonic applications. The as-grown and STA SiO x /SiN y MLs show enhanced optical and electrical properties than the SiO x /SiO2 counterparts. Besides achieving a high density of Si-ncs at a reduced thermal budget, we show that high emission and absorption efficiencies can be achieved even from amorphous Si-ncs. The Nd-doped MLs, as-grown and those annealed at lower thermal budgets, demonstrate efficient emission from rare-earth ions. We also show that our STA SiO x /SiN y MLs have about a hundred times higher conductivity compared to the SiO x /SiO2 MLs. These results show the advantages of SiO x /SiN y MLs as materials for photovoltaic and photonic applications and open up perspectives for a detailed study.
- SiN y :
silicon-rich silicon nitride
- SiO x :
silicon-rich silicon oxide
short time annealing at 1,000°C for 1 min.
This study is supported by the DGA (Defense Procurement Agency) through the research program no. 2008.34.0031. The authors acknowledge J. Pierriére for the RBS measurements done with the SAFIR accelerator (INSP, UPMC) and X. Portier (CIMAP) for the TEM image.
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