Towards environmentally friendly electrodeposition: using citrate based electrolytes to deposit nickel and nickel-iron
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/12/2100
The production of magnetic materials is of great interest for use in the micro-fabrication industry. In particular, Permalloy (Ni80Fe20) is used in the production of micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) due to its favourable magnetic properties (high relative permeability, low coercivity and high magnetic saturation). This leads to applications in devices such as inductors, transformers and micro-actuators. The electrodeposition of NiFe is also of fundamental electrochemical interest, as there is anomalous thermodynamic behaviour, with the less noble (iron) metal depositing preferentially to the more noble (nickel) metal. To enable consistent alloy deposition nickel and nickel-iron baths are currently almost exclusively based on boric acid. Boric acid has an important role in the deposition of NiFe films but its role(s) in the electro-deposition mechanism is (are) not wholly understood. Recently (2011) boric acid has been identified as a “substance of very high concern” based on the criteria established by EU chemical regulation, REACH. In anticipation of increased regulation an alternative was sought to provide a benign alternative to boric acid in the NiFe plating bath suitable for use in micro-fabrication. Initial work was performed to benchmark the performance of existing boric acid based electro-deposition baths. Cyclic voltammetry was performed, which demonstrated the deposition of nickel and nickel-iron from boric acid baths. Coulombic efficiencies up to 93 % were measured for the deposition of nickel using the electrochemical quartz crystal microbalance (EQCM) on platinum electrodes. For nickel-iron deposition control of the film composition was demonstrated on copper electrodes through varying the iron (II) concentration, current density and temperature. A citrate bath for the deposition of nickel-iron was then developed and characterised. Cyclic voltammetry was performed in these citrate baths demonstrating the deposition of nickel and nickel-iron. Optimal conditions for depositing Ni80Fe20 were demonstrated to be an elevated temperature (60 °C) with a current density of 20 mA cm-2 and a pH of 3. Using the EQCM the efficiency for nickel deposition was measured to be > 80 %. The effects of sodium saccharin and sodium dodecyl sulfate as additives were investigated; these were shown to influence morphology but not the coulombic efficiency. Decreasing the pH was shown to lower the efficiency of nickel deposition from the citrate bath. Comparisons of key properties were made between NiFe films deposited from a boric acid bath and the citrate bath developed in this work. Test structures were used to compare the strain in the films; no significant difference was found. For 2.2 μm thick Ni80Fe20 films the sheet resistance was measured using Greek cross structures as 0.078 ± 0.004 Ω/square for films deposited from the boric acid bath and 0.090 ± 0.006 Ω/square from the citrate bath. The magnetic saturation, Ms, was measured as 895 ± 66 emu cm-3 for deposits from the boric acid bath and 923 ± 111 emu cm-3 from the citrate bath. These again show no significant difference in these values within experimental error. Coercivities for these films were measured to be between 20 and 120 A m-1. In combination, this work demonstrates the development and characterisation of a new citrate based electrodeposition bath for nickel and nickel-iron. Similar chemical, electrical, mechanical and magnetic properties were found from films deposited from both baths, thus demonstrating the suitability of the citrate bath for the deposition of nickel-iron films in microfabrication.