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

n their theoretical work, Wu and his colleagues discovered that this type of electronic structure engineering can be greatly beneficial for thermoelectricity. Working with the semiconductor zinc selenide, they simulated the introduction of two dilute concentrations of oxygen atoms (3.125 and 6.25 percent respectively) to create model HMAs. In both cases, the oxygen impurities were shown to induce peaks in the electronic density of states above the conduction band minimum. It was also shown that charge densities near the density of state peaks were substantially attracted toward the highly electronegative oxygen atoms.

Wu and his colleagues found that for each of the simulation scenarios, the impurity-induced peaks in the electronic density of states resulted in a "sharp increase" of both thermopower and electric conductivity compared to oxygen-free zinc selenide. The increases were by factors of 30 and 180 respectively.

"Furthermore, this effect is found to be absent when the impurity electronegativity matches the host that it substitutes," Wu says. "These results suggest that highly electronegativity-mismatched alloys can be designed for high performance thermoelectric applications."

Wu and his research group are now working to actually synthesize HMAs for physical testing in the laboratory. In addition to capturing energy that is now being wasted, Wu believes that HMA-based thermoelectrics can also be used for solid state cooling, in which a thermoelectric device is used to cool other devices or materials.

"Thermoelectric coolers have advantages over conventional refrigeration technology in that they have no moving parts, need little maintenance, and work at a much smaller spatial scale," Wu says.


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

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