Scholarly article on topic 'Thermoelectric materials: Energy conversion between heat and electricity'

Thermoelectric materials: Energy conversion between heat and electricity Academic research paper on "Materials engineering"

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Journal of Materiomics
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Abstract of research paper on Materials engineering, author of scientific article — Xiao Zhang, Li-Dong Zhao

Abstract Thermoelectric materials have drawn vast attentions for centuries, because thermoelectric effects enable direct conversion between thermal and electrical energy, thus providing an alternative for power generation and refrigeration. This review summaries the thermoelectric phenomena, applications and parameter relationships. The approaches used for thermoelectric performance enhancement are outlined, including: modifications of electronic band structures and band convergence to enhance Seebeck coefficients; nanostructuring and all-scale hierarchical architecturing to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity. Several promising thermoelectric materials with intrinsically low thermal conductivities are introduced. The low thermal conductivities may arise from large molecular weights, complex crystal structures, liquid like transports or high anharmonicity of chemical bonds. At the end, a discussion of future possible strategies is proposed, aiming at further thermoelectric performance enhancements.

Academic research paper on topic "Thermoelectric materials: Energy conversion between heat and electricity"

Accepted Manuscript

Thermoelectric materials: energy conversion between heat and electricity Xiao Zhang, Li-Dong Zhao

PII: S2352-8478(15)00025-8

DOI: 10.1016/j.jmat.2015.01.001

Reference: JMAT 11


To appear in: Journal of Materiomics

Received Date: 10 January 2015 Revised Date: 19 January 2015 Accepted Date: 20 January 2015

Please cite this article as: Zhang X, Zhao L-D, Thermoelectric materials: energy conversion between heat and electricity, Journal of Materiomics (2015), doi: 10.1016/j.jmat.2015.01.001.

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Graphical Abstract

o.o I......... i . ■ . ■ ■—H .—,—.—,—.—

1960 1990 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016 Year

This review summarizes the advanced and promising thermoelectrics, involve band engineering, hierarchical architechtures, and compounds with intrinsically low thermal conductivity.

Review Article

Thermoelectric materials: energy conversion between heat and electricity

Xiao Zhang, Li-Dong Zhao*

School of Materials Science and Engineering, Beihang University, Beijing 100191, China Corresponding author: Received date:2015-01-10; Revised date:2015-01-19; Accepted date:2015-02-20


Thermoelectric materials have drawn vast attentions for centuries, because thermoelectric effects enable direct conversion between thermal and electrical energy, thus providing an alternative for power generation and refrigeration. This review summaries the thermoelectric phenomena, applications and parameter relationships. The approaches used for thermoelectric performance enhancement are outlined, including: modifications of electronic band structures and band convergence to enhance Seebeck coefficients; nanostructuring and all-scale hierarchical architecturing to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity. Several promising thermoelectric materials with intrinsically low thermal conductivities are introduced. The low thermal conductivities may arise from large molecular weights, complex crystal structures, liquid like transports or high anharmonicity of chemical bonds. At the end, a discussion of future possible strategies is proposed, aiming at further thermoelectric performance enhancements.

Keywords: thermoelectric, electrical conductivity, Seebeck coefficient, thermal conductivity

1. Introduction

Statistical results show that more than 60% of energy is lost in vain worldwide, most in the form of waste heat. High performance thermoelectric (TE) materials that can directly and reversibly convert heat to electrical energy have thus draw growing attentions of governments and research institutes [1]. Thermoelectric system is an environment-friendly energy conversion technology with the advantages of small size, high reliability, no pollutants and feasibility in a wide temperature range. However, the efficiency of thermoelectric devices is not high enough to rival the Carnot efficiency [2, 3]. A dimensionless figure of merit (ZT) is defined as a symbol of the thermoelectric performance, ZT=(dalK)T. Conceptually, to obtain a high ZT, both Seebeck coefficient (a) and electrical conductivity (a) must be large, while thermal conductivity (k) must be minimized so that the temperature difference producing Seebeck coefficient (a) can be maintained [4] [5].

Historically, in 1821, the German scientist Thomas Johann Seebeck (Fig. 1(a)) noticed an interesting experimental result that a compass needle was deflected by a nearby closed cycle jointed by two different metals, with a temperature difference between junctions. This phenomenon is called the Seebeck effect, which can be simply schematized by Fig. 1(b), where an applied temperature difference drives charge carriers in the material (electrons andlor holes) to diffuse from hot side to cold side, resulting in a current flow through the circuit [6]. Fig. 1(c) shows the power generation efficiency as a function of average ZTave, and the relationship can be given

where ZTave is the average value of both «-type and p-type two legs, the ZTave per leg is averaged over the temperature dependent ZT curve between Th and Tc, Th and Tc are the hot and cold ends temperature, respectively [7, 8]:

by [7, 8]:

ZTave = I' ZTdT (2)

T — T jtc

Fig. 1(c) shows that a higher ZTave and a larger temperature difference will produce the higher conversion efficiency. One can see that if ZTave=3.0 and AT=400K the power generation efficiency nP can reach 25%, comparable to that of traditional heat engines [7, 8]. The Seebeck effect is the thermoelectric power generation model. And in some extreme situations or special occasions, the thermoelectric technology plays an irreplaceable role. The radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) have long been used as power sources in satellites and space probes, such as Apollo i2, Voyager 1 and Voyager 2, etc. Nowadays, thermoelectric power generation gets increasing application in advanced scientific fields, and the thermal source could be fuels, waste-heat, geothermal energy, solar energy and radioisotope [7, 8].

Opposite to the Seebeck effect, the Peltier effect is the presence of heating or cooling at an electrified junction of two different conductors and was named after the French physicist Jean Charles Athanase Peltier (Fig. 1(d)), who discovered it in 1834. As shown in Fig. 1(e), heat is absorbed at the upper junction and rejected at the lower junction when a current is made to flow through the circuit, and the upper end is active cooling[6]. The thermoelectric cooling efficiency nc can be given by[7, 8]:

T — T

V1 + ZTave — TJ T

V1 + ZTve + 1

As illustrated in Fig. 1(f), similar with the thermoelectric power generation, a higher Z^e value will produce a larger thermoelectric cooling efficiency For example, When Zrave=3.0, AT=20 K, n could reach 6%. The Peltier effect is the thermoelectric cooling power refrigeration model, which have already been used in some electronic equipments intended for military use. Thermoelectric coolers can also be used to cool computer components to keep temperatures within design limits, or to maintain stable functioning when overclocking. For optical fiber communication applications, where the wavelength of a laser or a component is highly dependent on temperature, Peltier coolers are used along with a thermistor in a feedback loop to maintain a constant temperature and thereby stabilize the wavelength of the device.

Heat Source

Thomas Joharin Seebeck German (1770-1831)

Jean Charles Athanase Peltier French(1785-1845)

0.0 0.5 1.0 1.5 2.0 2.5 3.0 3.5 4.0

Fig. 1. Schematic illustrations of thermoelectric modules for power generation (Seebeck effect) and active refrigeration (Peltier effect): (a) the German physicist, Thomas Johann Seebeck, (b) Seebeck effect for the power generation, an applied temperature difference causes charge carriers in the material (electrons or holes) to diffuse from the hot side to the cold side, resulting in current flow through the circuit, (c) power generation efficiency as a function of average ZTave; (d) the French physicist, Jean Charles Athanase Peltier, (e) Peltier effect for the active refrigeration, heat evolves at the upper junction and is absorbed at the lower junction when a current is made to flow through the circuit, (f) cooling efficiency as a function of average ZTave. Higher ZTave projects higher thermoelectric power generation and cooling efficiency.

2. Current thermoelectric materials and advanced approaches

To obtain a high ZT, both Seebeck coefficient (a) and electrical conductivity (a) must be large, while thermal conductivity (k) must be minimized; however, the laws of physics conspire against satisfying this requirement. The Wiedemann-Franz law requires the electronic part of thermal conductivity (k) to be proportional to electrical conductivity (a), and the Pisarenko relation limits the simultaneous enlargement of a and a [9]. The complex relationships of these thermoelectric parameters can be summarized as [10]:

8n2kB ( n ^

a =-B mT\ — I (4)

3eh \ 3nJ

ne t , .

s = nem = —— (5) m

ktot = kat + kele = klat + LsT (6)

where kB is the Boltzmann constant, m* is the density of states effective mass, h is the Planck constant, n is the carrier concentration, e is per electron charge, ^ is the carrier mobility, t is the relaxation time, Ktot is the total thermal conductivity, Klat is the lattice thermal conductivity, Kele is the electronic thermal conductivity, and L is the Lorenz number.

The complex parameter relationships make the approach of tuning carrier concentration alone difficult to enhance ZT. However, over the past few decades, great progress has been made in thermoelectric field encompassing diverse strategies to enhance the power factor and reduce thermal conductivity, promoting the thermoelectrics to its Renaissance era. Fig. 2 summaries the reported ZT values per publishing years. According to the optimal working temperature, the thermoelectric materials can be divided into three ranges [10]: Bi2Te3-based low-, PbTe-based middle-and SiGe-based high- temperature ranges, with typical temperatures varying from <400K, 600K-900K and >900K, respectively. To retrospect the history of thermoelectric materials that have been developed for nearly 200 years since the observation of the Seebeck effect in 1821, the development can be divided into three generations according to ZT values [5]. In the first generation, ZT is about 1.0, and the devices can operate at a power conversion efficiency 4%-5% (approximately estimated from the maximum ZT), as shown in the left purple part of Fig. 2. The second period was ignited by size effects and extends to 1990s [11-13], with ZT being pushed to about 1.7 [14], by the introduction of nanostructures; the power conversion efficiency can be expected to be of 11%-15%, as shown in the middle blue part of Fig. 2. The third generation of bulk thermoelectrics has been under development recently, some new concepts and new technologies have pushed ZT to 1.8 [15] and even higher; the

predicted device conversion efficiency increases to 15%-20%, as shown in the right yellow part of Fig. 2. The development history in the thermoelectric exhibits a trend of pursuing low-cost and earth-abundant characterizations besides high ZTs > 2.0 [16-19]. 3.0

^ 1.5 N

1.0 0.5 0.0

1960 1990 2004 2006 2008 2010 2012 2014 2016

Fig. 2. ZT of the current bulk thermoelectric materials as a function of year: the left part indicates the three conventional thermoelectric systems with ZT < 1.0 before 1990s, Bi2Te3, PbTe and SiGe; the middle part elucidates that the ZTs were enhanced to about 1.7 by nanostructures (AgPbmSbTem+2[14], nano-Bi2Te3[20], nano+amorphous-Bi2Te3[21], nano-SiGe[22], nanostructural PbS[23]) and electronic structure engineering (Tl doped PbTe[24], PbTe1-xSex[15]), modulation doping (SiGe)[25, 26]; the right part shows the high performance realized in hierarchical PbTe and promising thermoelectric materials developed recently and characterized by low-cost, earth-abundant, and low thermal conductivity, including panoscopic PbSe[27, 28], band alignment PbS[29, 30], BiCuSeO[31], Cu2S systems[32, 33], SnS[34, 35], Cu2Se systems[17, 19, 36, 37], Half-Heusler[38, 39], and SnSe[18]. Some materials show the ZTs > 2.0.

As shown in Fig. 2, due to the extraordinary physical and chemical properties, PbTe is one of the most attractive materials, the study of which was extended throughout the history of themroelectrics [40-42]. For this reason, PbTe system is hereby chosen to introduce the newly developed strategies in order to enhance ZT.

2.1. Band structure engineering to enhance Seebeck coefficient


ranoscopic ^PbSe ' and align. " PbS


' I ' r

The first typical example is the Seebeck coefficient enhancement in PbTe by the density-of-states (DOS) distortion through Tl doping [24, 43, 44]. Such a situation can occur when the valence or conduction band of the host semiconductor resonates with the localized impurity energy level. Compared with Na doped PbTe with the same carrier concentration, Tl doped PbTe shows increased effective mass and pronuanced higher Seebeck coefficient. The DOS distortion results in a ZT as high as 1.5 at 773K, which is very impressive by merely introducing Tl elements in PbTe. The conjunction of this new physical principle with the approaches used to lower the thermal conductivity could further enhance ZT in PbTe system, and have been proved equally applicalbe in other thermoelectric systems, such as Al-dopd PbSe, such as Al-dopd PbSe [45, 46] and In-doped SnTe [47]systems.

Another typical example is the Seebeck coefficient enhancement by tuning the energy offsets between light and heavy valence bands in PbTe. PbTe has a fascinating valence band structure; in addition to the upper light hole band at the L points of the highly symmetric Brillouin zone, there exists a second valence (with a heavy effective mass, thus called heavy hole band) band (X) which lies energetically below it [5, 15, 48, 49], as shown in Fig. 3(a). The energy offset between L and X band is about 0.15eV in PbTe system. If the L and X band edges move closer in energy the carriers will redistribute between the two valence bands (L and X bands) with different effect masses. The overall effective mass can be enhanced through carrier injections from X

band to L band by a factor of Nv , where Nv is the number of degenerate valleys,

* 2/3 * *

which is 4 for L band and 12 for the X band. Specifically, m = Nv mb , where mb is the effective mass of the single valley [48]. The band convergence can be evidenced by the deviation of experimental Seebeck coefficents from calculated Pisarenko line at

the carrier concentration > 4*10 cm- , as shown in Fig. 3(b) [50]. Compositional alloying in the matrix could also result in a decreased energy offsets between L and X bands in PbTe. Examples are Mn [51] and Mg [50] alloyed PbTe, where the energy difference between L and X bands was reported to decrease with respect to the alloying fractions. With increasing solute fraction of M (M=Mn, Mg), both L and X bands lower their energies, but the L band decreases faster than the X band, so that the

two bands eventually get closer, Fig. 3(a). This type of M solid solution alloying lifts the Seebeck coefficients over Pisarenko line in the entire carrier concentrations range, Fig. 3(b). The Seebeck coefficient enhancement is similar in character to that caused by resonant states in PbTe by Tl doping. Indeed, the Mn and Mg alloying in PbTe produced a high ZT of 1.6 [51] at 700 K and 2.0 [50] at 873 K, respectively. However, this approach is challenged by the deteriorations of carrier mobility, clearly which will need to be settled with future experimentation. The intra matrix band engineering described above has also been successfully applied to other systems such as the PbSe-SrSe[52], MgiSi-MgiSn [53] and the SnTe systems [47, 54].

Fig. 3. (a) Schematic showing the relative energy of the valence bands in PbTe system, with rising solid solution fraction M (such as Mg[50, 55] and Mn[51]). The solid solution alloying within the solubility limit modifies the valence band structure push both L and E bands move down but make the two valence bands closer in energy. (b) The Pisarenko relation for PbTe (Na doped PbTe), and the enhancement on Seebeck coefficient at a similar Hall carrier concentration in PbTe due to either resonant doping (Tl)[24] or band convergence at room temperature (Mg [50, 55] and Mn[51]).

2.2. All-scale hierarchical architectures to reduce thermal conductivity

The thermoelectric performance can be enhanced by decreasing the thermal conductivity. The complex relationships between thermoelectric parameters indicate that the lattice thermal conductivity Klat is the only parameter that is independent on carrier concentration. Therefore, reducing lattice thermal conductivity is an effective method to enhance thermoelectric performance. The lattice thermal conductivity can be given by: Klat=1/3Cvvl, where the heat capacity (Cv) and the phonon velocity (v) are constant, so the lattice thermal conductivity is governed by the phonon mean free

(a) PbTe Pb^MJe (b)

Carrier concentration, n(cm'3)

path (MFP) l. When the dimension of inclusions/defects is comparable to the MFP,

the phonons will be effectively scattered. Acoustic phonons carry most of the heat in a material, and they have a spectrum of wavelengths and mean free paths (MFP) distribution, including short, medium and long wavelength phonons, synergetically contributes to the total thermal conductivity [56-58]. Therefore, all length-scale structures (solid-solution point defects, nano-scale precipitates and grain boundary) corresponding to the broad spectrum of heat-carrying phonons should be the main design principle for the future thermoelectric materials, as shown in Fig. 9(a).

Point defects can be formed by doping or alloying. Their role of reducing the lattice thermal conductivity [59] are generally understood in the Callaway model via the mass difference (mass fluctuations) and the size and the interatomic coupling force differences (strain field fluctuations) between the impurity atom and the host lattice [60, 61]. Nano- inclusions can be obtained by several approaches, including embedded nano-inclusions [62, 63], dispersing in situ partially oxidized nanoparticles in matrix [64], and the endotaxial nano-precipitates [23, 27, 29, 50, 54, 65, 66]. A general approach for introducing endotaxial nanostructures in a parent matrix is through nucleation and growth of a second phase, which is required to have a low solubility in the solid state, but complete solubility in the liquid state [23]. To get the polycrystallines, the spark plasma sintering (SPS) is a suitable and effective technology to fabricate highly dense and fine-grained thermoelectric materials [67]. In term of developing scalable materials, there are several effective methods of powder processing, including mechanical alloying (MA) [20, 62, 68], a rapid melt spinning (MS) [21, 69-73], and self-propagating high-temperature synthesis (SHS) [74, 75].

A illustrative example for the thermal conductivity reduction is PbTe-4SrTe-2Na polycrystalline [16]. The lattice thermal conductivity of PbTe was reduced by ~25% through Na doping; and further reduced by 55% through introducing of nanostructured SrTe; grain boundary contributes to a further significant reduction at high temperatures. The overall thermal conductivity reached as low as at 915K. In term of figure of merit ZT, optimal Na doping in

p-type PbTe leaded to a ZT of ~1.1 at 775K, which was further increased to ~1.7 at 800K by introducing SrTe nano-precipitates, and eventually to ~2.2 at 915K for PbTe-4SrTe-2Na polycrystalline through additional grain boundary scattering [16]. These all-scale hierarchical architectures were successfully established and applied to various lead chalcogenides PbQ (Q=Te [50], Se [27, 65], and S [29, 66]).

(b)25 2.0


■ P bTe+2 % N a+4 % S rTe (poly crystal

■ P bTe+2 % N a+4 % S rTe (ingot],

■ PbTe+2%Na (ingot)

Point defect

300 400 500 600 700 800 900

Temperature (K)

Fig. 4. All-scale hierarchical architectures and ZT values: (a) hierarchical architectures with all length-scale structures (solid-solution point defects, nano-scale precipitates and grain boundaries) to scatter short, medium and long wavelength phonons, respectively, (b) the ZT values as a function of temperature for the PbTe+2%Na ingot, PbTe+2%Na+4%SrTe ingot, and PbTe+2%Na+4%SrTe polycrystal [16].

3. Promising thermoelectric materials with intrinsically low thermal conductivity

To date, diverse advanced approaches to enhance ZT emerged in the last decade including: modifying the band structure [24, 43], heavy valence (conduction) band convergence [15, 53], quantum confinement effects and electron energy barrier filtering to enhance Seebeck coefficients[12, 13]; nanostructuring and all-scale hierarchical architecturing to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity [14, 16]; band energy alignment between nano-precipitate/matrix to maintain hole mobility [29, 76]. Most of these approaches aim to maintain a high power factor and/or reduce the lattice thermal conductivities. Alternatively, one can seek high performance in thermoelectric materials with intrinsically low thermal conductivity, which may arise from a large molecular weight [77], a complex crystal structure [78], anharmonic [18,

79, 80], anisotropic bonding [59, 81], weak chemical bonding [82], or ion liquid-like transport behavior [36, 37], etc.

3.1. Yb^MnSbn: large molecular weight

Yb^MnSbn has a body-centered, I4\lacd crystal structure, as shown in Fig. 5(a). The green and purple spheres represent Yb and Sb, respectively, and the filled red polyhedron indicates MnSb4 tetrahedron [77]. The molecular weight of Yb^MnSbn is 3783.088, which is more than ten times higher than that of PbTe (334.8). The electrical resistivity (Fig. 5(b)) increases linearly with temperature and reaches -5.4 x 10° Q.

-cm at 1200 K. The high electrical resistivity corresponds to a low mobility of about 3 cmVVs that decreases with temperature. The Seebeck coefficient for YbuMnSbn (Fig. 5(c)) reveals a monotonic increase with temperature and reaches a maximum of +185[j,V/K at 1275 K. The resulting power factor calculated from the electronic properties exhibits a maximum of -6.0 (j,W/cmK" at 1200 K, as shown in Fig. 5(d). This value is somewhat low compared with the-state-of-the-art thermoelectric materials [83]. As shown in Fig. 5(e), the thermal conductivity of Ybi4MnSbn is very low, ranging from - 0.7 to 0.9 W/mK from 300 to 1275K. The low thermal conductivity value is even comparable to a glass, largely owing to the complexity (limiting the phonon mean-free path) and heavy atomic mass (reducing the fraction of atomic vibrational modes that carry heat efficiently) of the crystal. Overall, the ZT for Yb^MnSbn (Fig. 5(f)) sharply increases with temperature and reaches a maximum of -1.0 at 1223 K. Considering the low power factor of YbuMnSbn, further improvement of the ZT should be possible through carrier concentration optimization [84-86].

1 ........... £ 0.00........ 1 i 1 I 0.0...........

200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400 200 400 600 800 1000 1200 1400

Temperature (K) Temperature (K) Temperature (K)

Fig. 5. Crystal structure, and thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature of Ybi4MnSbn[77]: (a) Crystal structure, body-centered, I4\/acd crystal structure of YbnMnSbn. The green and purple spheres represent Yb and Sb, respectively. The MnSb4 tetrahedron is shown as a filled red polyhedron, (b) electrical resistivity, (c) Seebeck coefficient, (d) power factor, (e) thermal conductivity, and (f) ZT value. Reprinted (Fig. 5(a)) with permission from (ref 61). Copyright 2006, American Chemical Society.

3.2. Ag9TlTe5: a complex crystal structure

As shown in Fig. 6(a), Ag9TlTes exhibits a complex hexagonal crystal structure with the space group R-3c. The hexagonal lattice parameters a=1.1431 nm and c=4.1945 nm. The unit cell of Ag9TlTes is large and extremely complex, containing 12 molecules and 180 atoms [78]. The electrical resistivity of Ag9TlTes decreases with

temperature across the whole temperature range, indicating a semiconducting

character. The resistivity value at 700 K is 2.63 x 1 (r Q -cm, Fig. 6(b), which is more

than an order of magnitude higher than those of state-of-the-art thermoelectric

materials. The Seebeck coefficient first decreases with temperature, reaching a

minimum at around 650 K, and then increases with temperature up to 700 K. The

Seebeck coefficient value of Ag9TlTes at 700 K is 319 |iV/K, as shown in Fig. 6(c).

The maximum power factor of 3.87 |iW/cmK2 was obtained at 700K, Fig. 6(d).

Although its power factor is lower than those of state-of-the-art thermoelectric

materials, Ag9TlTes exhibits a very high ZT value of 1.23 (Fig. 6(f)) at 700K because

of its extremely low thermal conductivity [78], whose value at room temperature is

about 0.23 W/mK, only one-fifth of that for pure Bi2Te3 [83]. The temperature dependence of thermal conductivity is rather weak, as shown in Fig. 6(e), resembling a glass-like limit. To explore the reason behind the low thermal conductivity of Ag9TlTe5, the elastic properties were then characterized. The average sound velocity, Young's modulus, and Debye temperature are 1203 ms-1, 23.4 GPa and 120 K, respectively. These values are very low compared with those of state-of-the-art thermoelectric materials [83]. For example, the Debye temperatures for Bi2Te3 and PbTe are 165 K and 160 K, respectively. The low Young's modulus and Debye temperature of Ag9TlTe5 are attributable to its weak interatomic bonding. The above data well satisfied the requirements for a low thermal conductivity: a large molecular weight, a complex crystal structure, nondirectional bonding, and a large number of different atoms per molecule [87].

400 500 600 Temperature (K)

400 500 600 Temperature (K)

400 500 600 Temperature (K)

Fig. 6. Crystal structure[78], and thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature of Ag9TlTe5: (a) Crystal structure, (b) electrical resistivity, (c) Seebeck coefficient, (d) power factor, (e) thermal conductivity, and (f) ZT value. Reprinted (Fig. 6(a)) with permission from (ref 62). Copyright 2005, The American Physical Society.

3.3. Cu2Se: ion liquid-like transport

Copper chalcogenides Cu2Se, in spite of their simple chemical formula, have quite complex atomic arrangements. The Cu-Se system exhibits two distinct phases in the Cu-deficient region, i.e., the low-temperature a-phase and the high-temperature

/i-phase. In both phases, a significant deficiency of Cu are allowed in the chemical stoichiometry of CibSe [36, 37]. For the high-temperature /i-phase, Se atoms form a simple face-centered cubic (fee) structure with the space group Fm-3m, as shown in Fig. 7(a). The electrical resistivity and Seebeck coefficient of CibSe are very high in the whole temperature range, as shown in Figs. 7(b) and 7(c). The resistivity is on the

order of 10""-10° Q. -cm, and the Seebeck coefficient in the /?-phase range of temperatures from 420 K to 1000 K varies between +80 and +300 [j,V/K. Based on the measured electrical resistivity and high Seebeck coefficient, the calculated power factor for the /?-phase ranges from 7-12 (j,W/cmK", as shown in Figs. 7(d). CibSe has very low thermal conductivity values (<1.0W/mK), see Figs. 7(e); the lattice thermal conductivity km of around 0.4-0.6 W/mK at high temperatures indicates the phonon mean free path is quite small in this binary material. It is very surprising that such low value of km was realized in a compound with very simple chemical formula, small unit cell and light elements. One possible suggestion is that the low thermal conductivity is largely related with the abnormal heat capacity behaviors over temperature, as shown in the inset of Figs. 7(e). y^-Cu^Se shows a decreasing Cp value ranging between 3M"b (in a solid crystal) and 2Mb (in a liquid), which deviates from the expected one at elevating temperature. This abnormal behavior of Cp reveals an ion liquid-like transport. With the low thermal conductivity, the ZT of /i-CibSe reached a value ~ 1.5 at 1000 K, as shown in Fig. 7(f). The extraordinarily high ZT of /i-CibSe demonstrates that reducing the number of modes of heat propagation by using a superionic conductor with a liquid-like substructure could be a general strategy to suppress lattice thermal conductivity. In this sense, this work indicates a new direction for researches and broadens the scope of materials which should be carefully screened as prospective thermoelectric [68].

400 500 600 700 800 900 1000 Temperature (K)

600 700 800 900 1000 Temperature (K)

500 600 700 800 900 Temperature (K)

Fig. 7. Crystal structure, and thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature of Cu2Se: (a) Crystal structure of Cu2Se at high temperatures (ff-phase) with a cubic anti-fluorite structure, the unit cell where only the 8c and 32f interstitial positions are shown with Cu atoms[37]. (b) electrical resistivity, (c) Seebeck coefficient, (d) power factor, (e) thermal conductivity, and (f) ZT value. Inset shows the heat capacity of Cu2Se as a function of temperature, 3NkB is the theoretical value (Dulong-Petit) in a solid crystal, 2NkB is the theoretical value in a liquid, Cu2Se shows a decreasing and deviating value from the expected Cp at elevating temperature. Reprinted (Fig. 7(a)) with permission from (ref 29). Copyright 2012, Nature Publishing Group.

3.4. Harmonicity and anharmonicity

The perfectly harmonic bonds in one-dimension are schematically illustrated in Fig. 8(a). In perfectly harmonic bonds, the force to which an atom is subjected is proportional to its displacement from equilibrium position, and the proportionality constant is called the spring constant or stiffness. In the anharmonic case, the spring stiffness does not remain constant with increasing atom displacements, which has pronounced consequences when two phonons run into each other [88], as shown in Fig. 8(b). The presence of the first phonon then changes the value of the spring constant seen by the second phonon. The second phonon thus runs into a medium with modified elastic properties, which is more likely to reflect it. Anharmonicity results in enhanced phonon-phonon scattering, which reduces Klat without affecting the solid's electronic properties. Gruneisen parameter y is used to measure the strength of anharmonicity, which can be given by [79]:

3ßBVm C

where ß is the volume thermal expansion coefficient, B the isothermal bulk modulus, Cv the isochoric specific heat per mole, and Vm the molar volume.

The larger is the Grüneisen parameter y, the stronger is the phonon scattering. As mentioned above, PbTe system has the extraordinary physical and chemical properties favorable for high thermoelectric performance, one of which is the large Grüneisen parameter y. PbTe owns a Grüneisen parameter y about 1.5 [79], which is impressive for a semiconductor. The large y can be ascribed to the recent discovery that Pb atoms are in fact somewhat displaced off the octahedron center in the rock-salt structure, and that the displacement increases with rising temperature [89]. PbSe shows a lower thermal conductivity than PbTe, since it owns a higher y value due to a higher Cv . The higher degree of anharmonicity in lattice vibration eventually leads to a lower thermal conductivity in PbSe [90]. In what follows, we would introduce several representative systems with high bonds anharmonicity.

(a) Harmonicity

(b) Anharmonicity



Fig. 8. The schematic representations of harmonicity (a) and anharmonicity (b), the harmonicity shows a balance phonon transport and the anharmonicity shows an imbalance phonon transport (c). Harmonicity: if an atom is pulled from its

equilibrium position during the passage of a phonon, the force that the atom is subjected to is proportional to its displacement, and the proportionality constant of this relationship is called the spring constant. Anharmonicity: the spring constant does not remain constant with atom displacements, which has important consequences when two phonons run into each other [88].

(1) I-V-VI2 semiconductors:

Fig. 9(a) shows the crystal structure of cubic rock-salt I-V-VI2 semiconductors [79, 91, 92], where yellow atoms present Ag/Sb, gray atoms present Te(Se). Both the electrical resistivities and Seebeck coefficients of AgSbTe2 [93]and AgSbSe2 [91] are high in the temperature ranging from 300K to 700K, as shown in Fig. 9(b) and 9(c). AgSbTe2 shows the Seebeck coefficients range from 200-250 [j,V/K while AgSbSe2

exhibits much larger values of 300-500 [j,V/K. The maximal power factors are

10(j,W/cmK" and 3(j,W/cmK" for AgSbTe2 and AgSbSe2, respectively, as shown in Fig. 9(d). The thermal conductivities of the two I-V-VT semiconductors are impressively low and remain a value of about 0.3 W/mK throughout the entire temperature range, Fig. 9(e). The low thermal conductivity values contribute high ZT values of 1.6 and 0.4 at 700K for AgSbTe2 [93] and AgSbSe2 [91], respectively, Fig. 9(f). The low thermal conductivity values come from the strong anharmonicity of their chemical bonds, namely, the Griineisen parameters y are 2.05 and 3.5 for AgSbTe2 and AgSbSe2, respectively [92]. The high Gruneisen parameters of I-V-VL semiconductors may originate from the presence of lone-pair electrons in the ,s/;-hybridized bonding orbitals [94, 95]. These non-bonded electron pair of Sb gives rise to electron clouds surrounding the Sb atoms that cause nonlinear repulsive forces which is manifested as bonds anharmonicity [92].


300 400 500 600 700

Temperature ( K)

300 400 500 600 700

Temperature (K)

300 400 500 600 700

Temperature (K)

300 400 500 600 700

Temperature (K)

300 400 500 600 700 Temperature (K)

Fig. 9. Crystal structure, and thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature of I-V-VI2 semiconductors (AgSbTei [79, 93] and AgSbSe2 [91, 92]): (a) Crystal structure of cubic rock salt I-V-VI2 semiconductors, yellow atoms present Ag/Sb, gray atoms present Te(Se), (b) electrical resistivities, (c) Seebeck coefficients, (d) power factors, (e) thermal conductivities, and (f) ZT values.

2) BiCuSeO oxyselenides: BiCuSeO oxyselenides have recently received ever-increasing attentions and have been extensively studied as very promising thermoelectric materials [81]. The ZT of BiCuSeO system was significantly increased from 0.5 to 1.4 in the past three years, enable BiCuSeO oxyselenides to become robust candidates for energy conversion applications [31, 96]. As shown in Fig. 10(a), BiCuSeO crystallizes in a layered ZrCuSiAs structure, with the tetragonal unit cell a=b=3.9273 Â, c=8.9293 Â, Z=2, and the space group P4/nmm. BiCuSeO exhibits a two-dimensional layered structure, composed of alternatively stacking of fluorite-like Bi2O2 layers and Cu2Se2 layers along c-axis [97]. The combination of low electrical conductivity and large Seebeck coefficient produce a moderate power factor of undoped BiCuSeO, as shown in Figs. 10(b), 10(c) and 10(d). Considering the intrinsically low thermal conductivity of BiCuSeO (Fig. 10(e)), a practical way to enhance ZT is to increase its electrical transport properties, i.e., the carrier concentration and carrier mobility [81, 98, 99]. The modulation doping, widely used in a 2-dimension film devices to increase carrier mobilities, is very promising to

improve the thermoelectric performance for compounds with intrinsically low thermal

conductivities; indeed, the introduction of modulation doping in BiCuSeO increases

its carrier mobility from 2 cm /Vs to 4 cm /Vs and decouples the power factor [98]. As shown in Fig. 10(f), the figure of merit ZT was increased from 1.1 to 1.4 at 923 K in BiCuSeO system by modulation doping. The modulation approach prompts the carrier redistribution between the regions with contrasting carrier mobilities, thus facilitating the overall electrical transport. The heterostructures of modulation doped sample make charge carriers preferentially transport in the low carrier concentration area, which increases carrier mobility by a factor of two while maintains the similar overall carrier concentration as that in the uniformly doped sample [25, 26]. The intrinsically low thermal conductivity of BiCuSeO is the main reason for the promising thermoelectric performance in BiCuSeO system, namely, the thermal conductivities of BiCuSeO remain about 0.3-0.5 W/mK throughout the entire temperature range. The elastic properties indicate a Gruneisen parameter of 1.5 in BiCuSeO system [59], which is impressive for a conductor with moderate electrical transport properties. As in the same V group, Bi owns a larger atom radius than that of Sb, thus it is reasonable to expect that the valence shell and electron clouds surrounding the Bi atoms would be larger than that of Sb [59]. Similarly low lattice thermal conductivity should be observed in the Bi-based compounds, in which the Bi ion formally adopts the trivalent state as Sb in AgSbTe2 [79]. The connection between the nature of the bonding and the Gruneisen parameter (7) has been explored in detail theoretically by Huang et al, who clearly show the effect of large electron clouds on anharmonicity [100]. In principle, the lone-pair electrons of Bi possibly lead to more asymmetric electron cloud density thus resulting in more strong bond anharmonicity [92].


450 600 750 Temperature (K)

.0) o 300

0 o 200

•¿C y

T' 1 100

► Pristine BiCuSeO

' Uniformly doped BaO. 125

> Modulation doped BaO. 125

450 600 750 Temperature (K)

Pristine BiCuSeO Uniformly doped BaO. 125 -Modulation doped BaO. 125

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

'Pristine 'BiCuSeS Uniformly doped BaO. 125 Modulation doped BaO.

450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

Fig. 10. (a) Crystal structure of BiCuSeO, gray atoms present Bi, blue atoms present O, yellow atoms present Cu, and dark red atoms present Se. Thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature for undoped BiCuSeO, uniformly doped Bio.875Bao.i25CuSeO, and modulation doped Bio.875Bao.125CuSeO (50% undoped BiCuSeO + 50% Bio.75Bao.25CuSeO)[98]: (b) electrical resistivities, (c) Seebeck coefficients, (d) power factors, (e) thermal conductivities, and (f) ZT values.

3) SnSe single crystals: SnSe adopts a layered orthorhombic crystal structure at room temperature, which can be derived from a three dimensional distortion of the NaCl rock-salt structure[101], as shown in Fig. 11(a). Two-atom-thick SnSe slabs (along the b-c plane) with strong Sn-Se in-plane bonding are linked with weaker Sn-Se bonding along the a-direction. The structure contains highly distorted SnSe7

coordination polyhedron with three short and four very long Sn-Se bonds and a lone

pair of the Sn atoms sterically accommodated in between the four long Sn-Se bonds

[18]. The two-atom-thick SnSe slabs are corrugated creating a zig-zag accordion-like

projection along the b-axis. Compared with polycrystalline SnSe [102, 103], SnSe

single crystals exhibit super-high carrier mobilities, however, the SnSe crystals still

show the moderate electrical transport properties, as shown in Figs. 11(b), 11(c) and

11(d). Interestingly, SnSe shows a very low thermal conductivity, Fig. 11(e), which is

even comparable to these I-V-VI2 semiconductors [79]. The physics of SnSe is

fascinating, which is due to the high anharmonicity of its chemical bonds. The

average Grüneisen parameters of SnSe along the axis of a, b, c are 4.1, 2.1, 2.3, respectively [18]. The anomalously high Grüneisen parameter of SnSe is a reflection

of its unique crystal structure, which contains very distorted SnSe7 polyhedra (due to

the lone pair of Sn ), a zig-zag accordion-like geometry of slabs in the b-c plane. In each SnSe7 polyhedra, one Sn atom is surrounded by seven Se atoms, with four long Sn-Se bonds and three short ones, resulting in unbalanced forces around the Sn atom. This implies a soft lattice, and if this lattice were mechanically stressed along the b and c directions, the Sn-Se bond length would not change directly, but instead the zig-zag geometry would be deformed like a retractable spring or an accordion. In addition, along the a direction, the weaker bonding between SnSe slabs provides a good stress buffer or 'cushion', thus dissipating phonon transport laterally. The thermal conductivity of SnSe along b axis is 0.70 W/mK at room temperature and decreases to 0.34 W/mK at 973 K (Fig. 11(e)), which results in a high ZT of 2.6 at 973K, Fig. 11(f). Therefore, the high anharmonicity of chemical bonds may well be behind the high ZT of SnSe, an idea that stimulates further experimental and theoretical work. As an analogue of SnSe, SnS also has been paid extensive attentions. Parker and Singh calculated the band structure of SnS using the first-principles and deduced that SnS is an indirect bandgap semiconductor with a predicted high Seebeck coefficient and a low thermal conductivity [104]. They suggested that p-type SnS is a potential thermoelectric material if it can be suitably doped. The newly published calculation work by Bera et al. about SnS also supports the potentially good thermoelectric properties of SnS [105]. Experimentally, Tan et al. reported that the low thermal conductivity falls below 0.5W/mK at 873 K and leads to a high ZT of 0.6 in Ag doped polycrystalline SnS, pointing out that the environmentally friendly SnS is indeed a promising candidate for thermoelectric applications [34].

<a)% *

v ' %«

VT! / « i

»4 • « <

I 11 \ tu

10 —i—»—i—•—i—«—i—•—r

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

300 450 600 750 900 Temperature (K)

Fig. 11. Crystal structure, and thermoelectric properties as a function of temperature of SnSe single crystal along b-axis: (a) Crystal structure of SnSe, gray atoms present Sn, red atoms present Se, (b) electrical resistivity, (c) Seebeck coefficient, (d) power factor, (e) thermal conductivity, and (f) ZT value.

Owing to the wide scope of promising thermoelectric materials characterized by intrinsically low thermal conductivities, we would not list them one by one in this short summary. Interested readers are encouraged to refer to these typical examples, including CdSb with anisotropic multicenter bonding [106], diamond-like tetrahedral compounds [107-112], natural minerals [113-118], zintl phase with complex structure [119-126], bismuth sulfides [127-133], and others [134-136].

4. Summary and outlook

Thermoelectric materials are environmentally friendly for power generation and

refrigeration, thus providing a solution for energy crisis and pollution; however, the

thermoelectric conversion efficiency is low and mainly limited by the performance of

thermoelectric materials. New concepts and technologies were applied recently to

enhance ZT, but accompanied difficulties need to be solved. For example, DOS

distortion and band convergence could enlarge carrier effective mass and the Seebeck

coefficient, but also result in the deterioration of carrier mobility. Nanostructures is an

effective approach to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity but also cause a stronger

charge carrier scattering. Thermoelectric materials with intrinsically low thermal conductivity deemed promising are facing the problem of poor electrical transport properties. Last but not the least, there is still a long way between high thermoelectric performance and high thermoelectric conversion efficiency. Building a device that could reach the theoretical efficiency is not a trivial pursuit, it is a huge development project by itself considering the tremendous practical challenges, including good thermal isolation of the device, suitable low resistance hot side and cold side metal contacts, and optimizing assembly of modules, etc. The development of thermoelectric materials and devices needs the connected efforts involving physicists, chemists, materials scientists, and theory scientists.


The work carried out in US was supported in part by a grant DOE-EERE/NSF (CBET-1048728), the Revolutionary Materials for Solid State Energy Conversion, an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Science, and Office of Basic Energy Sciences under Award Number DE-SC0001054. We thank Professors M. G. Kanatzidis, V. P. Dravid, C. Uher, C. Wolverton, D. N. Seidman, T. P. Hogan, J. P. Heremans, E. D. Case, N. Dragoe, D. Berardan, C.-W. Nan, J.-F. Li, Y. H. Lin, J. Q. He, W. Cai, J. H. Sui, Y. L. Pei, E. Amzallag, Y. Liu, and W. Xu for plentiful discussions and fruitful collaborations. This work was also supported by the "Zhuoyue" program of Beihang University. Of course most of all, we are grateful to the numerous dedicated graduate students and postdoctoral fellows who have contributed to our thermoelectric research efforts. Their names appear in the various publications cited in this article.


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Xiao Zhang is a doctoral research fellow in the School of Materials Science and Engineering at Beihang University, China. She received her Bachelor of Engineering degree in metallurgy from the University of Science and Technology Beijing, China, in 2013. She started her doctoral research as a member of Li-Dong Zhao's group in 2014. Her main research interests focus on the fabrication and properties of thermoelectric materials.

Li-Dong Zhao is currently associate professor of Beihang University, China. He received his B.E. and M.E. Degrees in Material Science from the Liaoning Technical University and his Ph.D. Degree in Material Science from the University of Science and Technology Beijing, China in 2009. He was postdoctoral research fellow in the LEMHE-ICMMO (CNRS-UMR 8182) at the University of Paris-Sud from 2009 to 2011, and continued a postdoctoral research fellow in Mercouri G. Kanatzidis group in the Department of Chemistry at the Northwestern University from 2011 to 2014. His research interests include the thermoelectric materials, superconductors and thermal barrier coatings.