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Mismatched alloys are a good match for thermoelectrics
Date:1/27/2010

tage being directly proportional to the temperature difference. This phenomenon became known as the Seebeck thermoelectric effect and it holds great promise for capturing and converting into electricity some of the vast amounts of heat now being lost in the turbine-driven production of electrical power. For this lost heat to be reclaimed, however, thermoelectric efficiency must be significantly improved.

"Good thermoelectric materials should have high thermopower, high electric conductivity, and low thermal conductivity," says Wu. "Enhancement in thermoelectric performance can be achieved by reducing thermal conductivity through nanostructuring. However, increasing performance by increasing thermopower has proven difficult because an increase in thermopower has typically come at the cost of a decrease in electric conductivity."

To get around this conundrum, Wu and his colleagues turned to HMAs, an unusual new class of materials whose development has been led by another physicist with Berkeley Lab's Materials Sciences Division, Wladyslaw Walukiewicz. HMAs are formed from alloys that are highly mismatched in terms of electronegativity, which is a measurement of their ability to attract electrons. The partial replacement of anions with highly electronegative isoelectronic ions makes it possible to fabricate HMAs whose properties can be dramatically altered with only a small amount of doping. Anions are negatively charged atoms and isoelectronic ions are different elements that have identical electronic configurations.

"In HMAs, the hybridization between extended states of the majority component and localized states of the minority component results in a strong band restructuring, leading to peaks in the electronic density of states and new sub bands in the original band structure," Wu says. "Owing to the extended states hybridized into these sub bands, high electric conductivity is largely maintained in spite of alloy scattering."

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Contact: Lynn Yarris
510-486-5375
DOE/Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory
Source:Eurekalert  

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