The transformation of the world of semiconductor technology

A high-performance diamond semiconductor device developed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is an important step toward meeting the growing demand for electricity and by 2050. achieve carbon neutrality. This breakthrough in diamond technology provides higher voltage capacity and lower leakage current than traditional silicon. – based on semiconductors. Credit:

Researchers have developed a semiconductor device made from diamonds that offers a promising solution to how to power the world by 2050. achieve carbon neutrality. This device boasts the highest breakdown voltage and lowest leakage current compared to existing diamond devices, marking a major advance in the electrification process.

In order to by 2050 achieving the world's goal of carbon neutrality requires a fundamental change in electronic materials to create a more reliable and resilient electricity grid. A diamond may be a girl's best friend, but it may also be the solution needed to support the electrification of society to achieve carbon neutrality in the next 30 years. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have developed a semiconductor device made using diamond that has the highest breakdown voltage and lowest leakage current compared to previously reported diamond devices. Such a device will enable the development of more efficient technologies needed as the world transitions to renewable energy.

Increasing demand for electricity

It is estimated that 50% of the world's electricity is currently controlled by power plants, and in less than a decade this figure is expected to rise to 80%, while at the same time the demand for electricity will increase by 50%. in 2050

According to the new report National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine: “Perhaps the greatest technological risk to a successful energy transition is the nation's failure to install, modernize, and build an electric grid. Failure to increase transmission capacity would delay the deployment of renewables, and the net result could be at least a temporary increase in fossil fuel emissions, preventing the country from meeting its emissions reduction targets.

A diamond semiconductor device

Diamond semiconductor device (4 mm x 4 mm in size). Credit: Grainger College of Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

“To meet those electricity needs and modernize the power grid, it's critical to move away from conventional materials like silicon to the new materials we're seeing today, like silicon carbide and the next generation.” semiconductors– ultra-wide bandgap materials such as aluminum nitride, diamond and similar compounds,” says the professor of electrical and computer engineering. Can Bayram, who led the study, along with graduate student Zhuoran Han. The the results of this work were published in IEEE Electron Device Letters.

Semiconductors: behind silicon

Most semiconductors are made using silicon and until now have served society's electrical needs. But as Bayram points out, “we want to make sure we have enough resources for everyone as our needs change. Today, we use more and more bandwidth, store more data (as well as more storage) and use more power, more electricity, and more energy in general. The question is: Is there a way to do all this more efficiently, rather than producing more energy and building more power plants?

Advantage of diamond semiconductors

Diamond is an ultra-wide-gap semiconductor with the highest thermal conductivity, which is the ability of a material to transfer heat. These properties allow diamond semiconductor devices to operate at much higher voltages and currents (using less material) and still dissipate heat without degrading electrical properties compared to traditional semiconductor materials such as silicon. “To build a power grid that requires high currents and high voltages, which makes things more efficient in areas like solar panels and wind turbines, we need technology that has no thermal limitations.” This is where the diamond comes in,” says Bayram.

Although many people associate diamonds with expensive jewelry, diamond can be made in the lab more cheaply and sustainably, making it a viable and important alternative to semiconductors. Natural diamond is formed deep beneath the Earth's surface under extreme pressure and heat, but because it is essentially just carbon, which is abundant, artificially synthesized diamond can be produced in weeks instead of billions of years, and is also 100 times less expensive to produce. carbon emissions.

In this paper, Bayram and Han show that their diamond device can support high voltages of around 5 kV, although the voltage was limited by the measurement setup rather than the device itself. Theoretically, the device can withstand up to 9 kV. This is the maximum voltage of the diamond device. In addition to the highest breakdown voltage, the device also exhibits the lowest leakage current, which can be considered a leaky but energized mixer. The leakage current affects the overall efficiency and reliability of the device.

Future perspectives

Han says, “We have developed an electronic device better suited for high-power, high-voltage applications for the future power grid and other power applications. And we've built this device out of an ultra-wideband material, synthetic diamond, which promises better efficiency and better performance than current-generation devices. We look forward to continuing to optimize this device and other configurations to approach the performance limits of diamond materials' potential.

Reference: “Diamond p-type lateral Schottky barrier diodes with high breakdown voltage (4612 V at 0.01 mA/Mm)”, Zhuoran Han and Can Bayram, 2023. October month. IEEE Electronic Device Letters.
DOI: 10.1109/LED.2023.3310910

Can Bayram is also an affiliate of the UIUC Holonyak Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory.

Godfrey Kemp

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