Microwave assisted synthesis and processing of Al, Ga and Al,Ga Co-doped ZnO for the pursuit of optimal conductivity for transparent conducting film fabrication

This work reports the microwave-assisted fabrication of highly conducting Al-doped ZnO (AZO), Gadoped ZnO (GZO), and Al, Ga codoped ZnO (AGZO) materials as cheaper earth abundant alternatives to indium tin oxide (ITO) for transparent conducting applications. All three doped ZnO powder samples were compressed into pellets, and their electrical properties were evaluated after the postsynthesis heat treatment. The heat treatment was performed by sintering the pellets at 600 °C in a reducing atmosphere using either conventional radiant annealing for 3 h or microwave annealing for 90 s. The Al and Ga dopant levels were systematically varied from 0.5 to 2.5 at. %, and it was found that the lowest resistivity values for the pelleted singly doped ZnO powders exist when the doping level is adjusted to 1.5 at. % for both AZO and GZO, giving resistivity values of 4.4 × 10−3 and 4.3 × 10−3 Ω·cm, respectively. The lowest resistivity of 5.6 × 10−4 Ω·cm was achieved for the pelleted codoped AGZO powder using the optimized Al and Ga dopant levels. Notably, this value is one magnitude lower than the best literature reported value for conventionally synthesized codoped AGZO powder. The resistivity values obtained for the pellets after radiant and microwave postsynthesis heat treatment are comparable, although the microwave heat treatment was performed only for 90 s, compared to 3 h for conventional radiant heat treatment. Hence, significant gains were made in the postannealing step by reducing time, cost, and energy required, benefiting our thrust for finding sustainable routes toward alternative low-cost transparent conducting oxides. As a proof of concept, transparent conducting thin films were fabricated via a simple aerosolassisted deposition technique using our best conducting AGZO nanoparticles. The films exhibited a visible transmittance as good as 90% and a resistivity of 5.7 × 10−3 Ω·cm, which can compete with the existing high cost ITO films.