The discovery by UCSB researchers turns graphene production into an industry-friendly process by improving the quality and uniformity of graphene using efficient and reproducible methods. They were able to control the number of graphene layers produced – from mono-layer to bi-layer graphene – an important distinction for future applications in electronics and other technology.
“Intel has a keen interest in graphene due to many possibilities it holds for the next generation of energy- efficient computing, but there are many roadblocks along the way,” added Intel Fellow, Shekhar Borkar. “The scalable synthesis technique developed by Professor Banerjee’s group at UCSB is an important step forward.”
Key to the UCSB team’s discovery is their understanding of graphene growth kinetics under the influence of the substrate. Their approach uses a method called low pressure chemical vapor deposition (LPCVD) and involves disintegrating the hydrocarbon gas methane at a specific high temperature to build uniform layers of carbon (as graphene) on a pretreated copper substrate. Banerjee’s research group established a set of techniques that optimized the uniformity and quality of graphene, while controlling the number of graphene layers they grew on their substrate.
According to Dr. Wei Liu, a post-doctoral researcher and co-author of the study, “Graphene growth is strongly affected by imperfection sites on the copper substrate. By proper treatment of the copper surface and precise selection of the growth parameters, the quality and uniformity of graphene are significantly improved and the number of graphene layers can be controlled.”
Professor Banerjee and credited authors Wei Liu, Hong Li, Chuan Xu and Yasin Khatami are not the first research team to make graphene using the CVD method, but they are the first to successfully refine critical methods to grow a high quality of graphene. In the past, a key challenge for the CVD method has been that it yields a lower quality of graphene in terms of carrier mobility – or how well it conducts electrons. “Our graphene exhibits the highest reported field-effect mobility to date for CVD graphene, having an average value of 4000 cm2/V.s with the highest peak value at 5500 cm2/V.s. This is an extremely high value compared with the mobility of silicon.” added Hong Li, a Ph.D. candidate in Banerjee’s research group.
The mechanisms determining the growth of high-quality monolayer and bilayer graphene on Cu using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) were investigated. It is shown that graphene growth on Cu is not only determined by the process parameters during growth, but also substantially influenced by the quality of Cu substrate and how the Cu substrate is pretreated. It is found that the micro-topography of the Cu surface strongly affects the uniformity of grown graphene while the purity of the Cu film determines the number of synthesized graphene layers at low pressure conditions. On the other hand, a minimum partial pressure of hydrocarbon is required for graphene to cover the Cu surface during graphene growth. The optimized bilayer graphene exhibits a maximum hole (electron) mobility of 5500 cm2V–1s–1 (3900 cm2V–1s–1). A new growth mode resulting in tetragonal shaped graphene domain, which is different from the known lobe structure (for monolayer) or hexagonal (for few layer) mode, is also discovered under our experimental conditions. Furthermore, high resolution transmission electron microscopy has revealed the non-ideal nature of CVD graphene structure for the first time, indicating an important cause of electron/hole mobility degradation that is typically observed in CVD graphene. This observation could be crucial for optimization of the CVD process to further improve the quality of graphene.