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Aluminum Arsenide: An Introduction

Key Takeaways

  • Aluminum arsenide (AlAs) is instrumental in various high-tech applications ranging from high-speed electronics, optoelectronics, and integrated circuits to solar energy and quantum technology.

  • The similar lattice constants of AlAs and GaAs minimize strain in layers, enabling the development of high-performance devices like HEMTs and quantum well devices.

  • AlAs's wider band gap compared to GaAs enhances its suitability for high-temperature operations, high-power applications, and high-frequency devices.

High-efficiency solar cell

Aluminum Arsenide is used everywhere, from high-efficiency solar cells to quantum devices.

Aluminum arsenide (AlAs) is a member of the group III-V semiconductors. AIAs has a cubic crystal structure and a direct band gap of about 2.16 eV at room temperature. AIAs shares a similar lattice constant with gallium arsenide (GaAs) and aluminum gallium arsenide, which enables it to form a superlattice with GaAs, enhancing its semiconductor properties. The wider band gap of AlAs (compared to GaAs) gives it some especially desirable qualities.

Aluminum Arsenide Key Features and Associated Uses

Application Area

Key Features

Specific Uses

High-Speed Electronics

High electron mobility. Ideal for RF and microwave applications.

Radar systems, satellite communications, high-frequency transceivers.


Effective in the ultraviolet spectrum. Used in LEDs and laser diodes.

UV light sources, optical communication systems, high-resolution imaging.

Integrated Circuits

Crucial in the fabrication of HBTs and HEMTs. Enhanced performance over silicon-based transistors.

Microprocessors, power amplifiers, high-speed switching circuits.

Solar Energy

Highly efficient. Suitable for advanced photovoltaic applications.

High-efficiency solar cells, space applications, renewable energy technologies.

Quantum Technology

Used in quantum well devices. Key in emerging quantum technologies.

Quantum well lasers, quantum computing elements, advanced electronic devices.

Aluminum Arsenide Synthesis

Producing aluminum arsenide (AlAs) is a complex process, largely due to the compound's high melting point of around 1,700 °C and the extreme reactivity of aluminum at such temperatures.

Advanced techniques such as Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) and Metalorganic Chemical Vapor Deposition (MOCVD) are used in fabrication. These approaches are preferred over traditional methods like liquid and vapor-phase epitaxy techniques or melt-growth techniques, which can produce less stable AlAs crystals and can generate hazardous arsine gas (AsH3) when exposed to moist air. 

Safety When Handling AlAs

Aluminum arsenide (AlAs) is relatively stable; however, it is important to avoid contact with acids, acid fumes, and moisture due to potential hazards. It does not undergo hazardous polymerization, but its decomposition can produce dangerous arsine gas and arsenic fumes. Aluminum compounds, which are prevalent in various industrial applications, often display reactive and toxic properties due to their chemical activity.

AIAs should be stored in a cool, dry location in containers that are tightly sealed to maintain integrity. Ensuring proper ventilation in the storage area is crucial. 

Why Is Aluminum Arsenide’s Wide Bandgap Important?

The band gap is the energy difference between the valence band (where the electrons are normally present) and the conduction band (where the electrons can move freely and conduct electricity). In the context of AlAs, having a wider band gap compared to GaAs has several key implications:

  • A wider band gap means that AlAs can operate effectively at higher temperatures compared to materials with narrower band gaps like GaAs. This is because the larger band gap reduces the likelihood of electrons being thermally excited from the valence to the conduction band, which in turn, reduces leakage currents and improves the thermal stability of devices.

  • The wider band gap of AlAs allows it to withstand higher electric fields without breaking down (known as electrical breakdown). This makes AlAs suitable for high-power applications.

  • In devices where high-frequency performance is crucial, such as in radio frequency (RF) and microwave applications, AlAs's wide band gap allows for faster electron transit, which is essential in high-speed electronics.

  • The wide band gap of AlAs also means it can emit and absorb light at shorter wavelengths in the ultraviolet range, which is significant for optoelectronic applications like UV LEDs and laser diodes.

  • AlAs's similar lattice constant to GaAs allows it to form superlattices without significant lattice mismatch. This compatibility is important in creating heterostructures used in advanced semiconductor devices where unique properties of different materials are combined.

Gallium Arsenide and Aluminum Arsenide’s Relationship

Gallium Arsenide and Aluminum Arsenide’s Relationship

The lattice structure of gallium arsenide and aluminum arsenide is called a “zinc blend,” also known as a cubic sphalerite. Featuring a face-centered cubic lattice and a basis. 

Blue = gallium, yellow = arsenide.

The near-identical lattice constants of gallium arsenide (GaAs) and aluminum arsenide (AlAs) result in minimal strain in the layers, allowing their growth to almost any thickness. This characteristic is crucial in the development of high-performance devices such as high electron mobility transistors (HEMTs) and other quantum well devices.

About Aluminum Gallium Arsenide

Aluminum gallium arsenide, also known as gallium aluminum arsenide, is a semiconductor material that shares a very similar lattice constant with GaAs, but has a larger bandgap. This larger bandgap makes it an ideal barrier material in GaAs-based heterostructure devices. 

In such devices, the AlGaAs layer plays a key role in confining electrons to the gallium arsenide region, exemplified by its use in quantum well-infrared photodetectors (QWIPs). Moreover, aluminum gallium arsenide is frequently used in the fabrication of laser diodes, particularly in GaAs-based red and near-infrared-emitting (700–1100 nm) double-heterostructure laser diodes. Its properties make it a valuable component in these devices, enhancing their performance and efficiency.

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