The role of the substrate on the mechanical and thermal stability of Pd thin films during hydrogen (de)sorption

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In this work, we studied the mechanical and thermal stability of ~100 nm Pd thin films magnetron sputter deposited on a bare oxidized Si(100) wafer, a sputtered Titanium (Ti) intermediate layer, and a spin-coated Polyimide (PI) intermediate layer. The dependence of the film stability on the film morphology and the film-substrate interaction was investigated. It was shown that a columnar morphology with elongated voids at part of the grain boundaries is resistant to embrittlement induced by the hydride formation (α↔β phase transitions). For compact film morphology, depending on the rigidity of the intermediate layer and the adherence to the substrate, complete transformation (Pd-PI-SiO2/Si) or partly suppression (Pd-Ti-SiO2/Si) of the α to β-phase was observed. In the case of Pd without intermediate layer (Pd-SiO2/Si), buckling delamination occurred. The damage and deformation mechanisms could be understood by the analysis of the stresses and dislocation (defects) behavior near grain boundaries and the film-substrate interface. From diffraction line-broadening combined with microscopy analysis, we showed that in Pd thin films, stresses relax at critical stress values via different relaxation pathways depending on film-microstructure and film-substrate interaction. On the basis of the in-situ hydriding experiments, it was concluded that a Pd film on a flexible PI intermediate layer exhibits free-standing film-like behavior besides being strongly clamped on a stiff SiO2/Si substrate.