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ECS Solid State Letters, 1 (2) Q26-Q28 (2012)

2162-8742/2012/1(2)/Q26/3/$28.00 The Electrochemical Society

Fabrication of Vertical-Structured GaN-Based Light-Emitting


Diodes Using Auto-Split Laser Lift-Off Technique
M. Chen,a,b W. J. Liu,b,c L. E. Cai,d J. Y. Zhang,c L. Sun,b,c M. M. Liang,b,c X. L. Hu,b,c
X. M. Cai,b,c F. Jiang,c X. Q. Lv,b L. Y. Ying,c Z. R. Qiu,e and B. P. Zhanga,c,e,z
a Department of Electronic Engineering, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005, Peoples Republic of China
b Pen-Tung Sah Institute of Micro-Nano Science and Technology, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005,

Peoples Republic of China


of Micro/Nano Optoelectronics, Department of Physics, Xiamen University, Xiamen 361005,
Peoples Republic of China
d Department of Mathematics and Physics, Xiamen University of Technology, Xiamen 361024,
Peoples Republic of China
e State Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies, Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou 510275,
Peoples Republic of China
c Laboratory

Vertical-structured GaN-based light-emitting diodes (V-LEDs) were successfully fabricated using auto-split laser lift-off (LLO)
technique. Compared to regular sapphire-substrate LED, the forward voltage of the V-LED at 20 mA is about 5% lower, while the
light output power is about 43% higher. For V-LED, the saturation behavior of the light output power (Lop) is not observed when
the injection current is increased to 480 mA, while the Lop of regular LED starts to decrease at around 110 mA. These improved
results can be attributed to the total effect of less current crowding, surface roughening on n-GaN layer, highly reflective Ag mirror
and good thermal conductivity of the electroplated Ni. Finally, mechanisms of the auto-split LLO technique are discussed based on
one-dimensional heat equation. It is shown that the auto-split LLO process is determined by the vapor pressure of N2 gas, which is
strongly dependent on the density of the laser energy.
2012 The Electrochemical Society. [DOI: 10.1149/2.011202ssl] All rights reserved.
Manuscript submitted April 11, 2012; revised manuscript received May 21, 2012. Published July 20, 2012.

As one of the most important light source in next-generation


solid-state lighting, GaN-based light emitting diodes (LEDs) have
been extensively developed in past few years. Nowadays, GaN-based
LEDs have already been used extensively in traffic signals, full-color
displays, and backlight units for liquid crystal displays. However,
some urgent problems such as efficient dissipation of heat and severe current-crowding effect due to the insulating sapphire substrate
in regular lateral conducting LEDs need to be solved. To overcome
these problems, methods such as the transfer of sapphire to other substrates (Si or Cu) by wafer bonding and laser lift-off (LLO) techniques
have been proposed to fabricate GaN-based vertical-structured LEDs
(V-LED) and exciting results have been reported.16
In spite of the astonishing progress, the fabrication procedure of
V-LEDs was proved complicated. Inductively coupled plasma (ICP)
is usually used twice for etching away the u-GaN, for electric current
isolation and for defining the chip size.79 Simplifying the fabrication
process is highly desirable. Recently, Wangs group reported the use
of patterned LLO and Ni electroplating techniques for the fabrication
of V-LEDs. A copper mask was used to define the chip size and the
shape of excimer laser beam.2,6
In this work, a new method called auto-split LLO technique is
proposed in which ICP etching is used once and the definition of chip
size is completed simultaneously during the removal of the sapphire
substrate by LLO. Compared to Wangs work, the copper mask is not
necessary and the method of defining the chip size is quite different.
The fabrication of GaN-based Auto-split Vertical-structured LEDs
(abbreviated as ASV-LEDs) by using auto-split technique, selective
Ni electroplating and metal bonding is reported and demonstrated.
Electrical and optical characteristics of ASV-LEDs are presented and
compared to those of regular LEDs. The mechanism of the auto-split
LLO technique is modeled and discussed. The density of the laser
energy in the LLO is shown to be a key factor.

metal layers were deposited on the p-GaN top layer and annealed at
500 C for 5 min in an O2 ambient.10 The metal layers were used as
not only the high reflective mirror, but also the ohmic contact with
p-GaN. Cr/Au layer was then deposited as adhesive layer. After that,
thick photoresist was used to define the size of the area of the electroplated Ni (300 300 m2 ). The thickness of the nickel layer is
about 45 m. Then, the devices were bonded onto a silicon permanent
substrate by means of Sn fusion bonding technique at temperature of
250 C and pressure of 0.5 MPa in vacuum for 10 min.11 Subsequently,
the auto-split LLO process was conducted at a laser energy density
of 650 mJ/cm2 using high power KrF(248 nm) excimer laser with a
pulse width of 25 ns. The devices were then heated to about 40 C for
2 min to remove the sapphire substrate, and followed by HCl solution to remove residual Ga. The undoped GaN was etched away by
ICP to expose the n-GaN Layer. For better light extraction and the
contact characteristics, a 6-mol KOH solution was used to roughen
the exposed n-GaN surface. Finally, a metal contact pad comprised of
Cr/Au was deposited as n-type contact electrodes (shown in Fig. 1b).

Experimental
Figure 1 shows the schematic diagrams of the layer structures and
key fabrication process of the ASV-LEDs. The LED epilayers were
grown on a 0001-oriented sapphire substrate by metal organic chemical vapor deposition. Prior to the ASV-LED chip process, Ni/Ag/Ti/Au
z

E-mail: bzhang@xmu.edu.cn

Figure 1. Schematic device structure of ASV-LEDs using the proposed autosplit technology at some specific processing stages. (a) Samples at the auto-split
LLO processing stage. (b) Samples at the n-GaN ohmic contact processing
stage. (c) Schematic cross section of a regular GaN-based LED. Note that
device structures shown in the present figure were not in scale.

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ECS Solid State Letters, 1 (2) Q26-Q28 (2012)

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Figure 2. (a) SEM top-view image of the electroplated Ni. (b) SEM tiltedview image of the electroplated Ni. (c) OM top-view image of the device after
the auto-split LLO process at 650 mJ/cm2 .

It is worth mentioning that by using the auto-split LLO technique,


ICP etching is used only once compared with conventional fabrication techniques of V-LEDs. For comparison, regular LEDs, as shown
in Fig. 1c, of the same chip size using oxidized Ni (5 nm)/Au (5 nm) as
the transparent conductive layer and ohmic layer were also fabricated
on the same wafer.
Results and Discussion
The surface images of the sample at different process steps were
shown in Figure 2. Figure 2a shows the top view of the electroplated
Ni. Figure 2b shows the tilted view of the electroplated Ni. The mushroom shaped of the electroplated Ni is similar to the electroplated Cu
in the previous report.12 Fig. 2c shows the OM top-view image of
the fabricated ASV-LED after auto-split LLO process. A note feature
from this image is that the device membrane was very intact, without
any signs of microcrack over the entire device area, indicating that
the auto-split LLO technique employed in this work is successfully
realized for lifting-off the sapphire substrate and defining the chip
size.
Figure 3 shows the measured forward current-voltage (I-V) characteristics of the ASV-LEDs and regular LEDs. It is seen that the
forward voltage at 20 mA of the ASV-LEDs and regular LEDs are
3.41 V and 3.58 V, respectively. The reduction of the forward voltage in ASV-LEDs should be mainly attributed to the much shorter
current conduction path and less current crowding effect. The inset
of Fig. 3 shows the typical reverse characteristics of ASV-LEDs and
regular LEDs. The reverse leakage current of ASV-LEDs is measured
to be 3.42 108 A at 5 V, being larger than that of the regular

Figure 3. Comparison of typical forward I-V characteristics of ASV-LEDs


and regular LEDs. The inset shows the reverse current characteristic of ASV
and regular LEDs.

Figure 4. Comparison of typical forward Lop-I characteristics of ASV-LEDs


and regular LEDs. The inset shows the typical picture of light emission from
the ASV-LEDs at 20 mA.

LEDs (1.5 1010 A at 5 V). Even though, the leakage current is


still in the reasonable range. Further optimization including the use of
current blocking layer and utilization of suitable passivation to ASVLEDs are now underway. Figure 4 shows the measured light output
power-current (Lop-I) characteristics of the ASV-LEDs and regular
LEDs, while the inset shows the typical optical micrograph of light
emission from ASV-LED at 20 mA. The Lop of the ASV-LEDs was
43% higher than that of regular LEDs at 20 mA. Moreover, when the
injection current increased to 110 mA, the Lop of the ASV-LEDs is
as high as 2.07 times to that of the regular LEDs. In addition, the
Lop of the ASV-LEDs continuously increases without saturation up
to 480 mA, while the Lop of regular LEDs starts to decrease at around
110 mA. The improved Lop of ASV-LEDs should be mainly ascribed
to the superior thermal dissipation capability of the electroplated Ni,
surface roughening on n-GaN layer and better light reflection due to
the high reflective Ag mirror.
The superior electrical and optical characteristics of ASV-LEDs
demonstrated that the use of auto-split LLO technique is very favorable for thin GaN LED fabrication. To figure out the mechanism of
the auto-split LLO process, a theoretical study was conducted. The
high power pulsed laser is irradiated to the interfacial GaN from the
back side of the sapphire substrate and GaN is thermally decomposed into gallium droplets and gaseous nitrogen (N2 ). According to
the experimental results of Karpinski and Porowski,13 the high vapor
pressure of N2 could extend up to 6 Gpa. After the decomposition,
the gaseous nitrogen rapidly expanded toward the surroundings and
formed intensely shockwave.14 With the electroplated Ni as underprop, the damage to the device membrane induced by shockwave was
reduced consumedly. According to previous reports, the damage is
limited in the range of 200 nm.14,15 While in the area without electroplated Ni, the crack of the thin film would occur due to the shockwave
formed by the vapor pressure (see metal fragments in Fig. 2c), which
contributes to the device isolation. Hence, the realization of the autosplit LLO process is essentially determined by the vapor pressure.
The experimental results of Karpinski and Porowski show that the
vapor pressure is exponentially dependent on temperature up to about
1100 C and then increases less rapidly. The temperature of GaN film
during the LLO process can be obtained by using the one-dimensional
heat equation.16,17 Assuming that the vapor pressure depends on the
maximum temperature induced by pulse heating, the maximum temperature can be expressed as:
1

Tmax I () 2

[1]

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Q28

ECS Solid State Letters, 1 (2) Q26-Q28 (2012)


optical properties. The improved performance was ascribed to the less
current crowding effect and surface roughening on n-GaN layer, as
well as the highly reflective Ag and good thermal conductivity of the
electroplated Ni. The results indicate that the use of the auto-split
LLO technique could represent a promising tool for the fabrication of
high performance GaN-based V-LEDs for solid-state lighting in the
foreseeable future.
Acknowledgment
This work was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Grant Nos. 10974165 and 91023048, 61106044) and
the Doctoral Program Foundation of Institutions of Higher Education
of China (Grant No. 20110121110029) and the Open Fund of the State
Key Laboratory of Optoelectronic Materials and Technologies (Sun
Yat-sen University) under grant No. KF2010-ZD-08.
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Figure 5. The vapor pressure vs. laser energy density. The inset shows the
surface morphology of the device after LLO process at 550 mJ/cm2 .

where I is the density of the laser energy and is the pulse width.
When is fixed, the maximum temperature Tmax is proportional
to I . Using data of the PN2 Tmax relationship from Karpinski and
Porowski, the vapor pressure PN2 as a function of I is obtained from
Eq. 1 and shown in Fig. 5. It is seen that, the vapor pressure is strongly
dependent on the laser energy density. In other words, the realization
of the auto-split LLO process depends on the laser energy density.
The inset shows the surface morphology of the device after LLO process at 550 mJ/cm2 , which is lower than the energy used in Fig. 2c.
Although the sapphire substrate can be removed at 550 mJ/cm2 , the
vapor pressure is about 0.31 Mpa and the device membrane is not
separated well. Such experimental phenomenon again demonstrates
that the laser energy density is the key factor of the auto-split LLO
technique.
Conclusions
In summary, an auto-split LLO method combined with selective
nickel electroplating and wafer bonding technique for the fabrication
of V-LEDs was presented. As compared to regular LEDs, the proposed
ASV-LEDs exhibited a significant improvement in both electrical and

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