Internal electric fields and electrode effects in ferroelectric thin films for piezoelectric energy harvesting

The continuing decrease of power requirements of electronic circuits offers the potential to deploy wireless systems as embedded sensors for cars or industrial tools, and implanted medical devices. Harvesting ambient vibrations by an appropriate energy harvesting (EH) device allows to avoid an undesirable battery replacement. At the scale of micro-electromechanical systems, where severe size constraints must be met, microfabricated EH devices with piezoelectric thin films offer the best energy density. Ferroelectric lead zirconate titanate (PZT) thin films with interdigitated electrodes (IDE) appear as the most promising device design for this purpose. Accurate characterization of the thin film response is necessary to determine the PZT composition and doping, the electrode geometry, and the stack design for maximum EH efficiency. Unfortunately, there is no rigorous description of the physical behavior of the IDE system to date. One goal of this thesis was thus to provide a better understanding of the experimental observations made by previous researchers. In addition, only a limited PZT composition and doping range has been investigated in this configuration. It was the second goal of this thesis to widen this range in order to determine the combination that yields the best EH efficiency. Finally, the risk of partial or total depoling over the device lifetime is always present in ferroelectric materials. The phenomena of aging and self-poling are of great interest to ensure proper retention of the poled state and, thus, the reliability of the harvesting device. Neither of the two are well understood. It was the third goal of this thesis to investigate the aging behavior and methods to promote self-poling. In this thesis work, we have have proposed a description of the physical behavior of the IDE system, and we have developed an analytical model for extracting the effective material properties from standard characterization measurements, which is well supported by both finite element (FE) simulations and experimental data. We found that if the substrate is conductive enough, a parasitic capacitance is present in parallel to the material response. We have provided a method to subtract the contribution of the parasitic capacitance, which has an accuracy of better than 4% in a wide range of IDE geometries as determined by FE simulations. We have investigated the performances of doped PZT thin films with IDE for several combinations of dopant and composition. We have improved an existing fabrication route to obtain textured PZT films on an insulating MgO layer. We found that dopants systematically reduced the piezoelectric response and retention capability, and increased the dielectric constant. All three are detrimental for EH. Undoped compositions should be chosen. We have studied methods to improve the stability of the poled state through aging and self-poling. Introducing the latter into the IDE configuration did not provide sufficiently strong effects to be of practical interest. On the contrary, the aging process may allow to tune the extrinsic contributions to the dielectric and piezoelectric response. It is likely caused by polarization discontinuities at grain boundaries. Further work is needed for fully optimizing this phenomenon. Finally, from the previous investigations, we could deduce and propose golden rules for the design of IDE structures, and discuss typical applications where they are advantageous.


  • Thesis submitted - Forthcoming publication

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