Copper resistivity fixable for 45nm, but long-term issues remain

July 7, 2005 – Copper resistivity will remain a challenge, but chip designers are likely to use hierarchical design workarounds to modify the metal for linewidths at the 45 nm technology node, according to participants at a recent industry workshop sponsored by SEMATECH and Novellus Systems Inc. The Copper Resistivity Workshop also focused on ways to extend the use of copper in advanced semiconductors in the face of increasing copper resistivity at linewidths below 90nm.

“Due to the fundamental laws of physics, copper resistivity is bound to increase and will result in several critical issues that need to be addressed,” said Andreas Knorr, conference co-chair and manager of the Advanced Materials Development Program in SEMATECH’s Interconnect Division. “Various process refinements could alleviate perhaps 5 to 15 percent of the problem, provided that chip manufacturers are willing to accept added cost and design complexity.”

Below 90nm linewidths, copper resistivity rises dramatically because of increased electron scattering on grain boundaries and interfaces. These resistivity increases can sharply diminish or wipe out the capacitance benefits of low-k dielectric materials, which have long been an industry focus.

“The increase in resistivity of an ultrathin wire was of academic interest long before the first IC,” said Ron Powell, conference co-chair and Novellus fellow. “But we have been so successful at scaling down CMOS devices and wiring that we now have to consider the practical impacts of these ‘size effects’ as well.”

“Ironically, the switch from aluminum to copper wiring has accelerated the problem, since size effects show up in copper at closer-in technology nodes. Regardless of how the situation came about, it is likely to be addressed by a synergistic combination of materials, process, and design changes,” Powell added. “Novellus and SEMATECH therefore conceived of a cross-functional workshop to raise awareness of the problem and drive a solution.”

At the resistivity workshop, experts sought to build consensus on the contributions and root causes of metal line resistivity increases at wire widths below 90nm, discuss the performance and reliability impact of these surges, and consider potential solutions with innovative approaches to materials, process and integration, and circuit design.

Knorr and Powell said the workshop highlighted two promising “process fixes” that could moderately mitigate the effects of resistivity:

1–Minimize the volume that diffusion barriers occupy by making them ultra-thin.

2– Enlarge copper grains to diminish boundaries and encourage unimpeded electron flow.

While participants believed that designers using hierarchical design rules will be able to work around the resistivity increase to reach the 45nm node, they warned that it will be critical to minimize line resistance differences induced by process variation. These differences originate mostly with lack of adequate critical dimension (CD) control and dishing and erosion problems caused by chemical-mechanical polishing (CMP), resulting in line cross-section variations. Also, workshop experts cautioned that reliability in fine lines will be a critical issue due to generally smaller grain sizes, and higher ratios of metal surface area to metal volume.

“The ultimate solutions will probably come in the form of short lines and a move to three-dimensional interconnect,” said Sitaram Arkalgud, SEMATECH’s Interconnect director. But he added that despite copper’s inherent problems, the workshop revealed scant support for returning to the metal it replaced several years ago.

“The entire audience was asked if they planned to move back to aluminum, and the answer was a resounding ‘No,’ ” Arkalgud recalled. “Only one person suggested that it was even a possibility.”


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