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Nature. 2008 Jan 10;451(7175):168-71. doi: 10.1038/nature06458.

Silicon nanowires as efficient thermoelectric materials.

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  • 1Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, MC 127-72, 1200 East California Blvd, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California 91125, USA.


Thermoelectric materials interconvert thermal gradients and electric fields for power generation or for refrigeration. Thermoelectrics currently find only niche applications because of their limited efficiency, which is measured by the dimensionless parameter ZT-a function of the Seebeck coefficient or thermoelectric power, and of the electrical and thermal conductivities. Maximizing ZT is challenging because optimizing one physical parameter often adversely affects another. Several groups have achieved significant improvements in ZT through multi-component nanostructured thermoelectrics, such as Bi(2)Te(3)/Sb(2)Te(3) thin-film superlattices, or embedded PbSeTe quantum dot superlattices. Here we report efficient thermoelectric performance from the single-component system of silicon nanowires for cross-sectional areas of 10 nm x 20 nm and 20 nm x 20 nm. By varying the nanowire size and impurity doping levels, ZT values representing an approximately 100-fold improvement over bulk Si are achieved over a broad temperature range, including ZT approximately 1 at 200 K. Independent measurements of the Seebeck coefficient, the electrical conductivity and the thermal conductivity, combined with theory, indicate that the improved efficiency originates from phonon effects. These results are expected to apply to other classes of semiconductor nanomaterials.

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