Editorial Feature

Developing Semiconductor Materials for Harsh Environments

Harsh environments like high temperature, extreme pressure and corrosive or oxidizing atmospheres significantly impact the performance of semiconductor materials. This article discusses the challenges of developing high-performance semiconductor materials for harsh environments.

Image Credit: Dima Zel/Shutterstock.com

What is a Harsh Environment?

Numerous industrial applications, including space exploration, aerospace missions, the automobile sector, the down-hole oil and gas business, and geothermal power plants, need specialized electronic systems deployed in harsh conditions to carry out measurements, monitoring, and control activities. The surrounding high, low, and wide-range temperatures, strong radiation, or even a combination of these circumstances are considered harsh environments.

Challenges in Developing Semiconductors  

Balance in Qualities

The requirement to balance material qualities is one of the main obstacles in developing high-performance semiconductor materials for harsh conditions. For instance, materials with high conductivity are more prone to radiation-induced deterioration, and higher heat-resistant materials have poorer thermal conductivity, which may restrict their capacity to disperse heat and increase the risk of thermal damage.

Radiations

Radiations from high-energy particles can cause ionization and displacement of atoms within the material, leading to defects depending on radiation type, radiation energy, dose rate, and material properties. Therefore, developing semiconductor materials that can withstand radiation without affecting performance is critical for nuclear power plants, space exploration, and medical imaging applications.

Thermal Effects

Semiconductor nanomaterials can exhibit excellent performance under normal conditions. However, they may thermally degrade rapidly under high temperatures affecting their electrical properties negatively, resulting in a reduction in performance and reliability.

Synthesis of Semiconductor Nanomaterials

Another challenge for developing high-performance semiconductor materials ( especially nanomaterials) for harsh environments is related to the synthesis of these materials since it requires precise control over their size, shape, composition, and crystal structure, and harsh conditions can affect the synthesis process, leading to poor quality or defective materials.

For example, high temperatures can lead to the formation of unwanted impurities, while corrosive environments can cause degradation of the materials. Therefore there is a need to develop new synthesis procedures compatible with harsh conditions while also ensuring the quality and reproducibility of the materials.

Revelvent Studies

High-performance n-type Polymer Semiconductors

A recent study published in 2020 explores the application and challenges of high-performance n-type polymer semiconductors. The study discusses the advantages of polymers in terms of film-forming properties, mechanical flexibility, and solution-based processing techniques.

It concludes that high-performance n-type polymers should possess widely tunable frontier molecular orbital (FMO) energy levels, high electron mobility, facile synthetic access, the ability to effectively inject and collect electrons at critical device interfaces, and robust stability under both material processing and device operation conditions to tackle the challenges.

Radiation-hard Semiconductor Materials

Using radiation-hard semiconductor materials such as SiC, diamond, and AlN for neutron detection has become popular in industries like agriculture and homeland security. A low-power, mechanically stable, and radiation-resistant detector is required for field measurement purposes.

A study published in 2009 focused on developing a radiation-resistant neutron semiconductor detector based on a wide bandgap SiC semiconductor. The detector operated at a zero-biased voltage with a high charge collection efficiency (CCE) of over 80% at the zero-biased voltage and 100% at a voltage above 20 V. The detector's structure was a metal/n/n+ Schottky device with a multi-layer structure, and its neutron response was measured with Li-6- and B-10-based materials.

Graphene-based Nanomaterials

In a recent study published in 2023, researchers successfully deposited graphene nanoparticles on a silicon substrate forming a Schottky junction that extended the operation window to the near-infrared region. Properties of graphene, like its adjustable nature, strong light-matter interactions, wide absorption band, high charge carrier mobility, and exceptional optoelectronic characteristics, helped improve the graphene/silicon hybrid semiconductor transportation range and charge separation speed.

The study also highlights the recent progress in graphene-silicon junction-based semiconductors and outlines active factors, including ultrafast photodetectors, optical waveguides, plasmonic devices, optical spectrometers,  and optical synaptic systems.

Future Prospects

Despite the challenges, significant progress has been made in developing high-performance semiconductor nanomaterials for harsh environments. Examples include the development of new synthesis methods compatible with high temperatures or corrosive environments, protective coatings and surface modifications to improve stability, and new characterization techniques,  like in-situ spectroscopy, for accurate measurements of the properties.

The prospects for developing high-performance semiconductor materials for harsh environments are promising, with potential applications in the fields of medicine, aerospace, energy, and defense. These materials could enable the creation of more durable and reliable electronic devices that can operate in extreme temperatures, radiation, and corrosive environments. In addition, advancements in nanotechnology and other fabrication techniques are expected to lead to even higher-performing materials in the future.

Continue reading: Errors in Semiconductor Manufacturing.

References and Further Reading

Ha, J. H., Kang, S. M., Park, S. H., Kim, H. S., Lee, N. H., & Song, T. Y. (2009). A self-biased neutron detector based on an SiC semiconductor for a harsh environment. Applied Radiation and Isotopes. doi.org/10.1016/j.apradiso.2009.02.013

Hassan, A., Savaria, Y., & Sawan, M. (2018). Electronics and packaging intended for emerging harsh environment applications: A review. IEEE transactions on very large scale integration (VLSI) systems. doi.org/10.1109/TVLSI.2018.2834499

Iqbal, M. A., Anwar, N., Malik, M., Al‐Bahrani, M., Islam, M. R., Choi, J. R., ... & Liu, X. (2023). Nanostructures/graphene/silicon junction‐based high‐performance photodetection systems: progress, challenges, and future trends. Advanced Materials Interfaces. doi.org/10.1002/admi.202202208

Rouhi, N., Jain, D., & Burke, P. J. (2011). High-performance semiconducting nanotube inks: Progress and prospects. ACS nano. doi.org/10.1021/nn201828y

Senesky, D. G. (2013). Wide bandgap semiconductors for sensing within extreme harsh environments. Ecs Transactions. doi.org/10.1149/05006.0233ecst

Sun, H., Guo, X., & Facchetti, A. (2020). High-performance n-type polymer semiconductors: applications, recent development, and challenges. [Online] Chem. Available at: https://www.cell.com/chem/pdf/S2451-9294(20)30235-7.pdf

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Taha Khan

Written by

Taha Khan

Taha graduated from HITEC University Taxila with a Bachelors in Mechanical Engineering. During his studies, he worked on several research projects related to Mechanics of Materials, Machine Design, Heat and Mass Transfer, and Robotics. After graduating, Taha worked as a Research Executive for 2 years at an IT company (Immentia). He has also worked as a freelance content creator at Lancerhop. In the meantime, Taha did his NEBOSH IGC certification and expanded his career opportunities.  

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