Direct bonded copper (DBC) substrates are commonly used in power modules, because of their very good thermal conductivity. They are composed of a ceramic tile (commonly alumina) with a sheet of copper bonded to one or both sides by a high-temperature oxidation process (the copper and substrate are heated to a carefully controlled temperature in an atmosphere of nitrogen containing about 30 ppm of oxygen; under these conditions, a copper-oxygen eutectic forms which bonds successfully both to copper and the oxides used as substrates). The top copper layer can be preformed prior to firing or chemically etched using printed circuit board technology to form an electrical circuit, while the bottom copper layer is usually kept plain. The substrate is attached to a heat spreader by soldering the bottom copper layer to it.

Ceramic material used in DBC include:

  • Alumina (Al2O3), which is widely used because of its low cost. It is however not a really good thermal conductor (24-28 W/mK) and is brittle.

  • Aluminium nitride (AlN), which is more expensive, but has far better thermal performance (> 150 W/mK).

  • Beryllium oxide (BeO), which has good thermal performance, but is often avoided because of its toxicity when the powder is ingested or inhaled.

One of the main advantages of the DBC substrates is their low coefficient of thermal expansion, which is close to that of silicon (compared to pure copper). This ensures good thermal cycling performances (up to 50,000 cycles). The DBC substrates also have excellent electrical insulation and good heat spreading characteristics.

A related technique uses a seed layer, photoimaging, and then additional copper plating to allow for fine lines (as small as 50 micrometres) and through-vias to connect front and back sides. This can be combined with polymer-based circuits to create high density substrates that eliminate the need for direct connection of power devices to heat sinks.

Contact an engineer at PAC for more information on DBC at engineering@pacificadvanced.com.

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