In silico carbon molecular beam epitaxial growth of graphene on the h-BN substrate: carbon source effect on van der Waals epitaxy†
Against the presumption that hexagonal boron-nitride (h-BN) should provide an ideal substrate for van der Waals (vdW) epitaxy to grow high quality graphene films, carbon molecular beam epitaxy (CMBE) techniques using solid carbon sublimation have reported relatively poor quality of the graphene. In this article, the CMBE growth of graphene on the h-BN substrate is numerically studied in order to identify the effect of the carbon source on the quality of the graphene film. The carbon molecular beam generated by the sublimation of solid carbon source materials such as graphite and glassy carbon is mostly composed of atomic carbon, carbon dimers and carbon trimers. Therefore, the graphene film growth becomes a complex process involving various deposition characteristics of a multitude of carbon entities. Based on the study of surface adsorption and film growth characteristics of these three major carbon entities comprising graphite vapour, we report that carbon trimers convey strong traits of vdW epitaxy prone to high quality graphene growth, while atomic carbon deposition is a surface-reaction limited process accompanied by strong chemisorption. The vdW epitaxial behaviour of carbon trimers is found to be substantial enough to nucleate and develop into graphene like planar films within a nanosecond of high flux growth simulation, while reactive atomic carbons tend to impair the structural integrity of the crystalline h-BN substrate upon deposition to form an amorphous interface between the substrate and the growing carbon film. The content of reactive atomic carbons in the molecular beam is suspected to be the primary cause of low quality graphene reported in the literature. A possible optimization of the molecular beam composition towards the synthesis of better quality graphene films is suggested.