Integrating CFET into the logic technology roadmap beyond 1nm

Article By : Naoto Horiguchi and Julien Ryckaert, imec

The complementary field-effect transistor (CFET) is an attractive device architecture for scaling beyond 1nm logic technology nodes.

The complementary field-effect transistor (CFET) outperforms the forksheet transistor in 4T track cell designs, making it an attractive device architecture for beyond 1nm logic technology nodes. At the 2022 IEEE VLSI Symposium on Technology and Circuits, imec presented two papers exploring two different integration schemes for fabricating CFET devices, i.e., monolithic and sequential. This article presents an outline evaluation of both integration schemes, and the proposed optimized process flows for sequential CFET, including a low-temperature layer transfer process.

At VLSI 2021, imec introduced the forksheet device architecture to extend the scalability of the nanosheet transistor family towards 1nm and beyond logic nodes. In a forksheet device, the effective channel widths can be made larger than in a conventional gate-all-around nanosheet device due to a reduced spacing between n- and p-type transistors. And this benefits the transistor’s drive current (or DC performance). In addition, the smaller n-to-p spacing enables a further reduction of the standard cell height, gradually pushing standard cells towards 4T track height design, meaning that 4 intracell metal lines fit in the range of the standard cell height.

But for 4T cell designs and metal pitches as tight as 16nm, even the forksheet becomes too narrow and struggles to deliver the required performance. This challenge is highlighted in the 2022 VLSI paper by P. Schuddinck et al. [1]. And that’s where the complementary FET or CFET can provide relief. Julien Ryckaert: “In a CFET architecture, n- and pMOS devices are stacked on top of each other. Stacking removes the n-p spacing from cell height considerations, allowing further maximization of the effective channel width, and, hence, the drive current. We can also use the resulting area gain to push track heights to 4T and below.”

Figure 1 - imec - From FinFET to NSH to FSH and to CFET
Figure 1: From FinFET to nanosheet to forksheet and finally to CFET.

Two different implementation schemes: monolithic and sequential

Two possible integration schemes are being explored for enabling the challenging nMOS-pMOS vertical stacking: monolithic versus sequential.

A monolithic CFET flow starts with the epitaxial growth of the bottom channel, followed by the deposition of an intermediate sacrificial layer, and next, the epitaxial growth of the top channel. Naoto Horiguchi: “Although this seems the most straightforward way to build CFETs, the processing flow is rather complex. For example, the stacking approach results in very high aspect ratio vertical structures, which brings critical challenges for further patterning the fin, gate, spacers, and source/drain contacts.”

Alternatively, CFETs can be made using a sequential fabrication flow consisting of several blocks. First, the bottom tier device is processed up to the contacts. Next, a blanket semiconductor layer is created on top of this tier by wafer transfer, using a wafer-to-wafer bonding technique. Then, the top-tier device is integrated, and the top and bottom gates are connected. Julien Ryckaert: “From an integration point of view, this flow is simpler than the monolithic flow, as both bottom and top-tier devices can be processed separately in a conventional ‘two-dimensional’ way. In addition, it offers the unique possibility of integrating different channel materials for n- and p-type devices.”

Each of these flows comes with its own set of pros and cons. Imec contributes by developing modules and integration steps and quantifying the power-performance-area-cost (PPAC) benefits and the complexity of each process flow.

PPAC benchmark: (optimized) sequential CFET is a valid alternative to monolithic CFET

In the 2022 VLSI paper by P. Schuddinck et al., the authors present a PPAC evaluation of monolithic CFET vs. sequential CFET in a 4T standard cell design [1].

Julien Ryckaert: “From this benchmark, CFETs fabricated using a monolithic process flow are shown to consume less area and outperform their sequential counterparts, which suffer from a rise in effective capacitance. However, we show that we can put the trajectory of the sequential CFET on par with that of monolithic CFETs by applying three optimizations: (1) self-aligned gate merge ((v2) in figure 2), (2) omission of the gate cap (v3), and (3) the use of hybrid orientation technology, referred to as HOT.”

Figure 2 - imec - Gate cross sections for NSH - FSH and CFET
Figure 2: Gate cross sections for nansoheet (NS), forksheet (FS) and CFET (monolithic and sequential). Basic sequential CFET (=v1) is wider and taller than mono. With an optimized flow (including self-aligned gate merge (v2) and no gate cap (v3)), sequential CFET approaches monolithic CFET in terms of area consumption (also presented at VLSI 2022).

HOT allows for independently optimizing the crystal orientation and strain engineering of top and bottom devices without adding to the process flow cost. For example, in an n-on-p configuration, Si wafers with <100> orientation can be used on top, delivering the highest electron mobility for the top nMOS devices. While for the bottom, pMOS hole mobility benefits from the <110> Si wafer orientation. Julien Ryckaert: “Although monolithic CFET remains the preferred choice, the uniqueness of the sequential process flow is that it can exploit this difference in wafer orientation. With these optimizations, our benchmark shows that the sequential CFET flow can be a valid alternative to the more complex monolithic CFET for future 4T track designs.”

Gradual improvement in module and integrations steps

In recent years, imec reported incremental progress in improving module and integration steps for monolithic and sequential CFETs.

At VLSI 2020, for example, imec was the first to demonstrate a monolithically integrated CFET architecture realized by optimizing critical module steps [2].

For sequential CFET, step-by-step improvements have been reported as well. Although bottom and top-tier devices can be processed separately in a conventional ‘two-dimensional’ way, the wafer transfer brings specific challenges. For example, it comes with thermal budget constraints (to around 500°C or below) for both layer transfer and top-tier device processing to avoid any negative impact on the bottom-tier devices. This is a concern for the gate-stack reliability of the top-tier device, which usually requires thermal steps of the order of 900°C. Earlier, imec demonstrated new approaches for maintaining good gate-stack reliability, including, among others, a low-temperature hydrogen plasma treatment for pMOS top devices [3]. Also, imec reported progress in the dielectric-to-dielectric wafer bonding step by developing a void-free thin bonding oxide process.

Smart Cut layer transfer: a critical building block for sequential CFET

In the 2022 VLSI paper by A. Vandooren en al., imec evaluated three different processes for enabling layer transfer [4]. In this paper, the authors studied the impact of the various process options on the device performance for both top (fully depleted silicon-on-insulator (FD-SOI)) and bottom (bulk FinFET) devices.

Naoto Horiguchi: “Especially promising from a cost perspective is SOITEC’s low-temperature Smart Cut flow, which uses an engineered bulk donor wafer to enable thin layer splitting at low temperature. The beauty of this approach is that it allows for reusing the donor wafer, making it a cost-effective solution. The other two approaches both rely on substrate removal by grinding and Si etch-back, which does not allow reuse of the donor wafer.”

Figure 3 - imec - Smart Cut process flow
Figure 3: Description of the SOITEC low-temperature Smart Cut layer transfer flow, with no curing or low-temperature curing (also presented at 2022 VLSI).

With further optimization, the top-tier devices processed after proof-of-concept layer transfer with low-temperature Smart Cut are shown to recover from degraded electrical performance. Naoto Horiguchi: “The devices suffer from lower electron mobility due to the non-optimized low-temperature curing. Soitec has further developed its solution, showing that we can recover the mobility loss by optimizing the low-temperature curing step, which improves the crystal quality of the Si channel. Given the cost-effectiveness of this approach, we consider Smart Cut with the newly developed process conditions a valid option for performing layer transfer in sequential CFET process flows. It provides a generic flow enabling 3D sequential stacking applications beyond CFET, such as 3D sequential integration of memory on logic or logic-on-logic.”

Figure 4 - imec -Mobility improvement
Figure 4: Electron effective field mobility vs. inversion charge for the low-temperature Smart Cut layer transfer approach, comparing optimized and reference (proof-of-concept) process conditions. The graph shows improved mobility for Opt. B (purple), which refers to the additional low-temperature curing step (also presented at VLSI 2022).

With these test devices, the authors also showed good electrical interconnectivity between the top and bottom devices, validated through functional inverter chains. In addition, gate stack reliability of the top-tier pMOS devices was preserved by integrating the hydrogen plasma treatment step, as discussed above.

Figure 5 - imec CFET article
Figure 5: TEM cross-section of the 3D sequentially stacked devices (also presented at VLSI 2022).

“I want to emphasize that this architecture is not yet a true CFET implementation,” adds Naoto Horiguchi. “For example, in the envisioned sequential CFET architecture, the metal interconnect layer (M1B) for the bottom device is absent. Our test vehicle, shown in the VLSI paper by A. Vandooren, was used to demonstrate improved layer transfer as a key module for sequential CFET and other 3D sequential stacking implementations. In the future, we continue to work towards optimized integration steps, which will eventually demonstrate a true sequential CFET implementation.”


Imec’s work on CFET PPAC evaluation and low-temperature Smart Cut is described in the following 2022 VLSI papers:

[1] ‘PPAC of sheet-based CFET configurations for 4 track design with 16nm metal pitch’, P. Schuddinck et al., 2022 VLSI;

[4] ‘Demonstration of 3D sequential FD-SOI on CMOS FinFET stacking featuring low temperature Si layer transfer and top tier device fabrication with tier interconnections’, A. Vandooren et al., 2022 VLSI;

Further reading:

– [2] ‘First Monolithic Integration of 3D Complementary FET (CFET) on 300mm Wafers’, S. Subramanian et al, VLSI 2020;

– [3] ‘Atomic Hydrogen Exposure to Enable High-Quality Low-Temperature SiO2 with Excellent pMOS NBTI Reliability Compatible with 3D Sequential Tier Stacking’, J. Franco et al, IEDM 2020.


This article was originally published on Embedded.

Naoto Horiguchi - imec

Naoto Horiguchi is a director of the logic CMOS scaling program in imec, in Leuven, Belgium. He started his carrier in semiconductor device R&D at Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. in 1992. Until 1999, he was engaged in device development using semiconductor nanostructures in Fujitsu Laboratories and the University of California, Santa Barbara. From 2000 to 2006, he was involved in 90-45nm CMOS technology development in Fujitsu as a lead integration engineer. Since 2006, he has been with imec, where he is engaged in advanced CMOS device R&D together with worldwide industrial partners, universities, and research institutes. His current focus is CMOS device scaling down to 1nm technology node and beyond.

Julien Ryckaert - imec

Julien Ryckaert received his M.Sc. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Brussels (ULB), Belgium, in 2000 and his Ph.D. degree from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) in 2007. He joined imec as a mixed-signal designer in 2000, specializing in RF transceivers, ultra-low-power circuit techniques, and analog-to-digital converters. In 2010, he joined the process technology division in charge of design enablement for 3DIC technology. Since 2013, he has been overseeing imec’s design-technology co-optimization (DTCO) platform for advanced CMOS technology nodes. In 2018, he became the program director focusing on scaling beyond the 3nm technology node and the 3D scaling extensions of CMOS. Today, he is vice president logic in charge of compute scaling.


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