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Barbato, Marco (2015) Characterization, modeling and reliability of RF MEMS Switches and Photovoltaic Silicon Solar Cells. [Tesi di dottorato]

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Abstract (inglese)

The main goal of this thesis is the failure and reliability investigation of RF-MEMS switches and photovoltaic solar cells. For technical developer people the reliability issue is often consider a secondary problem in electronic devices since it is not considered an important factor in the production chain. This concept is changing is the last years because reliability studies are considered an important technological step to improve the production process. This fact is confirmed by the investments that companies adopt to test their products. In the particular case of this thesis, we can easily mention the solar cell production line where the cells are subjected to reliability tests that extrapolate the efficiency and the fill factor in order to study the performances and to consequently improve the production process.

Concerning RF MEMS
Wireless communication systems for space applications require electronic components with a high level of reliability, a low power consumption and they should be as small as possible in order to be better integrated in satellites. Radio Frequency Micro Electro Mechanical System (RF-MEMS) can be considered one of the best candidates to comply with previous requirements and, under certain conditions, they can completely replace an entire solid-state circuit. RF-MEM devices in general are characterized by a good miniaturization, an easily integration in a standard solid-state circuit, an almost zero power consumption, a good RF linearity and a high quality factor Q.
Concerning RF-MEMS switches RF performances, they exhibit a very low insertion loss, lower than 0.1 dBm up to 60 GHz and, at the same time, a good isolation, more than 20 dBm. From an electrical and mechanical point of view the power consumption of these switches is close to zero because of an “on-state” current around pA and they are almost unaffected by high level of acceleration or deceleration because of their mass that is extremely small. The possibility to integrate the production of these devices in the standard foundry silicon processes and their integration with mature semiconductor technology are a great advantage for their spread making possible to produce them in an easy and cheap way.
Over the last 10 years important developments on MEMS switches have been done all over the world. As a matter of fact, these switches are quite attractive since they combine excellent RF performances and low power consumption of mechanical switches with the small size and low weight of semiconductor devices. However, the appearance of MEMS switches on the market has been hindered by the need for specific packaging as well as by reliability issues. Reliability is a major issue for any satellite since it is almost impossible to envisage any repair work once the spacecraft has been launched. Hence, reliability is a key driver when designing any RF equipment. If we consider a RF-MEMS switch, we have to guarantee that his electromechanical performances will be the same after an intensive usage in harsh environment, for instance after millions or billions of cycles and after the exposure to different kind of radiations. In case of their application in a redundancy scheme, they have to be completely operative even after a long period of activity or inactivity.
The aim of this thesis is to perform an electrical characterization and several reliability tests on different kind of RF-MEMS switches in order to analyze which are the weaknesses and the strengths of this new technology. Electrical characterizations have been done using two different measurement systems. The first, based on a vector network analyzer and a power supply, has been used to test the RF performances of the devices and to extract the actuation and deactuation voltages. The second set up, based on the internal RF signal generator of the VNA, an 8-GHz digital signal oscilloscope and a profilometer (polytec MSA 500), has been used to characterize the electrical performances like actuation time, release delay and dynamic performances.
Cycling stress, one of the most common test used to understand the robustness of this kind of devices, has been performed on different topologies of switch in order to better understand how some parameters of the RF MEMS switch, such as the shape of the beams or the actuation voltage, impact on the reliability of the device. Furthermore, the influence of continuous actuation stress on the reliability of dielectric-less switches has been investigated, comparing different designs and studying the variation of the main electrical parameters induced by the stress and the successive recovery phase.

Concerning PV solar cells
A solar cell, or photovoltaic cell, is an electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect. The operation of a photovoltaic (PV) cell requires 3 basic attributes: (i) the absorption of light, generating either electron-hole pairs or excitons, (ii) the separation of charge carriers of opposite types and (iii) the extraction of those carriers to an external circuit.
Over the last decades, many research groups have tried to improve the conversion processes in order to increase the efficiency of solar cells and to reduce the parasitic effects that limit the energy conversion. This has generated a real challenge to the best conversion efficiency. The average efficiency of multicrystalline silicon solar cells at the beginning of 2014 was about 16% but in research labs different solar cells have exceeded the 20% with records over 24%. The continuous growth of the solar cells efficiency has been achieved thanks to the reliability study of the single cells and to the degradation analysis of the real photovoltaic systems. These studies have revealed the critical points of PV solar cells and have led to a constant improvement of the production processes.
The aim of this thesis is the study of the reliability problems related to a single solar cell and to a string of solar cells subjected to different illumination conditions. Different characterization procedures have been developed in order to study the failure mechanisms and to study the weaknesses and the strengths of the technology. Four types of measurement set-ups have been utilized: (i) the first system is able to extract the IV curves in dark and light conditions. This simple measurement procedure has to be opportunely calibrated in order to obtain right results in term of efficiency and fill factor. (ii) The second system extracts the thermographic image of a single solar cell. It can be used to analyze hot spot and other failure mechanisms in the silicon structure. (iii) The third system extracts the electroluminescence and the photoluminescence of a single solar cell. It is able to extract and analyze the defects in the crystalline structure of the materials. (iv) The fourth is the LOANA system: a commercial tool able to extract the External Quantum Efficiency and the Internal Quantum Efficiency with the measurement of the reflectance.
All these characterization procedures have been utilized to study the evolution of the failure mechanisms when a single solar cell is subjected to reverse biasing stresses. The study of the catastrophic degradation of solar cells submitted to reverse current stress is of crucial importance since the failure can lead to the rapid increase of the temperature with a consequent risk of fire and to the breaking of the entire PV system. This particular situation can occur when the PV system is not uniformly illuminated and the solar cells of the system present not uniform shunt resistance.
Additional studies have been performed in the modelization of a solar cell with the two-diode model. The study and modeling of solar cells allow to obtain right results in term of efficiency and fill factor extrapolation. Moreover, the modelization allows the study of string of solar cells working in particular conditions in which the illumination level is not uniform in a whole panel. The simulations allow to predict the dangerous situations and to design appropriate prevention systems.

Abstract (italiano)

Lo scopo principale di questa tesi è investigare i meccanismi di rottura e l'affidabilità di interruttori RF MEMS e celle solari. I problemi affidabilistici sono spesso considerati dagli sviluppatori un problema secondario nei dispositivi elettronici dal momento che non sono considerati un fattore importante nella catena produttiva. Questo concetto sta cambiando negli ultimi anni visto che gli studi affidabilistici stanno diventando uno step tecnologico per migliorare i processi produttivi stessi. Questo fatto è confermato dagli innumerevoli investimenti che le aziende stanno elargendo per testare i loro prodotti. Nel caso particolare di questa tesi possiamo facilmente menzionare la linea produttiva di una cella solare dove le celle sono soggette a test di affidabilità che estrapolano l'efficienza e il fill factor. Questo permette di studiare le prestazioni delle celle e di conseguenza di migliorare il processo produttivo.

Interruttori RF MEMS
I sistemi di comunicazione Wireless per applicazioni spaziali richiedono componenti elettronici con un alto livello di affidabilità, un consumo di potenza basso e un’occupazione di spazio ridotta in modo da essere integrati in un satellite. Gli interruttori microelettromeccanici (RF-MEMS) possono essere considerati per sostituire i dispositivi meccanici attuali e, in determinate condizioni, possono sostituire un intero circuito a stato solido. I dispositivi RF MEMS in generale sono caratterizzati da una buona miniaturizzazione, una buona capacità di integrazione nei circuiti a stato solido, un consumo di potenza quasi nullo, una buona linearità e una alto fattore di qualità Q.
Riguardo le prestazioni, gli interruttori RF MEMS presentano una bassa perdita per inserzione, minore di 0.1 dBm fino a 60 GHz e, allo stesso tempo, un buon isolamento, maggiore di 20 dBm. Dal punto di vista elettro meccanico il consumo di potenza è vicino allo zero a causa della corrente di "on-state” vicina ai picoAmpere. Inoltre questi dispositivi non risultano disturbati dagli alti livelli di accelerazione e decelerazione (a causa della loro massa molto piccola). La possibilità di integrare la produzione di questi dispositivi nei processi standard di lavorazione del silicio e l'integrazione con tecnologie al silicio ormai mature sono dei grandi vantaggi per la loro diffusione su larga scala e per l'abbattimento dei costi di produzione.
Negli ultimi dieci anni molti miglioramenti sono stati fatti sugli switch MEMS da vari gruppi di ricerca. Gli switch RF MEMS stanno diventando interessanti per le loro prestazioni RF, per il loro basso consumo di potenza, per le piccole dimensioni e basso peso. Nonostante le loro prestazioni, la diffusione sul mercato è stata rallentata per la necessità di package specifici e per i loro problemi di affidabilità. L'affidabilità dei dispositivi RF MEMS è un fattore predominante in applicazioni spaziali dal momento che risulta impossibile qualsiasi intervento di manutenzione una volta che il satellite è stato lanciato. Quindi per applicazioni spaziali l'affidabilità deve essere considerata un fattore dominante nella fase di progettazione di ogni switch MEMS. Infatti dobbiamo garantire che le sue proprietà elettromagnetiche rimangano le stesse dopo un periodo di utilizzo prolungato in ambiente ostile, per esempio dopo milioni o bilioni di cicli e dopo la continua esposizione a diversi tipo di radiazioni. In caso di utilizzo di switch MEMS in schemi di ridondanza, devono essere completamente funzionanti anche dopo un lungo periodo di attività o inattività (mesi o anni).
Lo scopo di questa tesi è di effettuare caratterizzazioni di tipo elettrico e diverse tipologie di stress di affidabilità su switch RF MEMS in modo da studiare la tipologia di dispositivo più promettente e robusta. La caratterizzazione elettrica è stata eseguita utilizzando due diversi sistemi di misura. Il primo, basato su un "Vector network analyzer" e alimentatori, è stato utilizzato per verificare le prestazioni RF dei dispositivi ed estrapolare le tensioni di attuazione e disattuazione dei singoli dispositivi. Il secondo sistema di misura, composto dal generatore interno del "Vector network analyzer", da un oscilloscopio digitale con banda di 8-GHz e un profilometro ottico (polytec MSA 500), è stato utilizzato per caratterizzare le prestazioni elettriche e meccaniche come il tempo di attuazione, il ritardo introdotto in fase di rilascio e le prestazioni dinamiche dei dispositivi.
Lo stress di tipo "Cycling", uno dei test di affidabilità più comuni usato per comprendere la robustezza dei dispositivi, è stato eseguito su differenti tipologie di dispositivi per comprendere come le caratteristiche intrinseche dei dispositivi (per esempio la forma del ponte mobile) possano impattare sull'affidabilità del dispositivo stesso. Oltre a stress di tipo "Cycling" si è studiato l'influenza di stress di attuazione prolungata sull'affidabilità di dispositivi senza dielettrico, comparando differenti design e studiando la variazione dei parametri elettrici indotti dallo stress prolungato e dalle successive fasi di rilassamento dei dispositivi.

Celle Solari
Una cella solare, o cella fotovoltaica, è un dispositivo elettronico che converte l'energia della luce direttamente in energia elettrica attraverso l'effetto fotovoltaico. Il funzionamento delle celle fotovoltaiche richiede 3 principi di base: (i) l'assorbimento della luce, generando coppie elettrone lacuna, (ii) la separazione delle cariche generate e (iii) l'estrazione di queste cariche attraverso un circuito esterno opportunamente dimensionato.
Nelle ultime decadi molti gruppi di ricerca hanno provato ad incrementare il processo di conversione in modo da aumentare l'efficienza delle celle solari e ridurre così gli effetti parassiti che limitano il processo di conversione dell'energia. Tutto questo ha generato una vera e propria corsa alla migliore cella fotovoltaica in termini di efficienza di conversione. L'efficienza media di una cella solare multicristallina all'inizio del 2014 era di circa il 16% ma in alcuni laboratori di ricerca molte celle solari superavano il limite del 20% con record superiori al 24%. La continua crescita dell'efficienza delle celle solari è stata possibile anche grazie agli studi affidabilistici sulla cella solare singola e agli studi eseguiti sui meccanismi di degrado dei sistemi fotovoltaici esistenti. Questi studi hanno permesso di identificare i punti critici delle celle solari e hanno portato ad un costante aumento di prestazione dei processi produttivi.
Lo scopo di questa tesi è lo studio dell'affidabilità delle singole celle fotovoltaiche e di stringhe di celle sottoposte a differenti livelli di illuminazione. Diverse procedure di caratterizzazione sono state sviluppate per studiare i meccanismi di rottura e per studiare i punti di forza e i punti deboli di questa tecnologia. Quattro diversi sistemi di misura sono stati utilizzati: (i) il primi sistema è in grado di estrapolare le curve corrente tensione al buio e in condizione di illuminazione di una singola cella fotovoltaica. Questo sistema di misura apparentemente semplice deve essere opportunamente calibrato in modo da ottenere risultati corretti in termine di efficienza e fill factor. (ii) Il secondo sistema di misura permette di estrarre l'immagine termografica di una singola cella fotovoltaica. Può essere utilizzato per analizzare la presenza di "hot spot" e altri meccanismi di rottura nella struttura cristallina della cella solare. (iii) Il terzo sistema permette di estrarre l'elettroluminescenza e la fotoluminescenza di una singola cella solare. Questo sistema permette di analizzare la presenza di difetti nella struttura cristallina della cella stessa. (iv) Il quarto sistema di misura è il sistema commerciale LOANA (PVTools): questo strumento permette di estrarre l’efficienza quantica esterna e interna attraverso misure di riflettività.
Tutte questi sistemi di misura sono stati utilizzati per studiare l'evoluzione dei meccanismi di rottura quando una singola cella fotovoltaica viene sottoposta a stress in polarizzazione inversa. Lo studio della rottura catastrofica di una cella solare sottoposta a stress in polarizzazione inversa è di cruciale importanza dal momento che la rottura di una singola cella può portare an un aumento repentino della temperatura con conseguente rischio di incendio e rottura dell'intero sistema fotovoltaico. Questa particolare situazione può accadere quando un pannello fotovoltaico non è illuminato in modo uniforme e le singole celle fotovoltaiche presentano resistenza di "shunt" non uniformi in un singolo pannello.
Studi addizionali sono stati eseguiti nella modellizzazione di una singola cella solare con il modello a due diodi. Lo studio e la modellizzazione di una cella solare permette di ottenere risultati corretti in termini di efficienza e fill factor. Inoltre la modellizzazione permette lo studio di stringhe di celle solari che lavorano in particolari condizioni di illuminazione non uniformi all'interno di uno stesso pannello fotovoltaico. Le simulazioni permetto di predire situazioni potenzialmente dannose e quindi di prevedere opportuni circuiti di protezione.

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Tipo di EPrint:Tesi di dottorato
Relatore:Meneghesso, Gaudenzio
Dottorato (corsi e scuole):Ciclo 27 > scuole 27 > INGEGNERIA DELL'INFORMAZIONE > SCIENZA E TECNOLOGIA DELL'INFORMAZIONE
Data di deposito della tesi:19 Gennaio 2015
Anno di Pubblicazione:20 Gennaio 2015
Parole chiave (italiano / inglese):RF MEMS, Microelectronic, Electromechanical, Solar Cells, Reliability, Characterization, Modeling, Photovoltaic.
Settori scientifico-disciplinari MIUR:Area 09 - Ingegneria industriale e dell'informazione > ING-INF/01 Elettronica
Struttura di riferimento:Dipartimenti > Dipartimento di Ingegneria dell'Informazione
Codice ID:7495
Depositato il:13 Nov 2015 12:42
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