Mechanism of Thermal Atomic Layer Etch of W Metal Using Sequential Oxidation and Chlorination: A First-Principles Study

Suresh Kondati Natarajan, Michael Nolan, Patrick Theofanis, Charles Mokhtarzadeh, Scott B. Clendenning

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    Thermal atomic layer etch (ALE) of W metal can be achieved by sequential self-limiting oxidation and chlorination reactions at elevated temperatures. In this paper, we analyze the reaction mechanisms of W ALE using the first-principles simulation. We show that oxidizing agents such as O2, O3, and N2O can be used to produce a WOx surface layer in the first step of an ALE process with ozone being the most reactive. While the oxidation pulse on clean W is very exergonic, our study suggests that runaway oxidation of W is not thermodynamically favorable. In the second ALE pulse, WCl6 and Cl2 remove the oxidized surface W atoms by the formation of volatile tungsten oxychloride (WxOyClz) species. In this pulse, each adsorbed WCl6 molecule was found to remove one surface W atom with a moderate energy cost. Our calculations further show that the desorption of the additional etch products is endothermic by up to 4.7 eV. Our findings are consistent with the high temperatures needed to produce ALE in experiments. In total, our quantum chemical calculations have identified the lowest energy pathways for ALE of tungsten metal along with the most likely etch products, and these findings may help guide the development of improved etch reagents.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)36670-36680
    Number of pages11
    JournalACS Applied Materials & Interfaces
    Issue number32
    Early online date15 Jul 2020
    Publication statusPublished - 12 Aug 2020

    Bibliographical note

    Funding Information:
    Authors S.K.N. and M.N. thank Intel Corporation for funding. They also thank the Irish Centre for High-End Computing (project code: tiche081c) and Science Foundation Ireland-funded computing cluster at Tyndall for the computer time.

    Publisher Copyright:
    Copyright © 2020 American Chemical Society.

    Copyright 2020 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


    • atomic layer etching
    • atomistic simulations
    • density functional theory
    • first principles
    • self-limiting reaction
    • transistor contacts


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