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Concept: Thermoelectric cooling


Thermoelectric devices that are flexible and optically transparent hold unique promise for future electronics. However, development of invisible thermoelectric elements is hindered by the lack of p-type transparent thermoelectric materials. Here we present the superior room-temperature thermoelectric performance of p-type transparent copper iodide (CuI) thin films. Large Seebeck coefficients and power factors of the obtained CuI thin films are analysed based on a single-band model. The low-thermal conductivity of the CuI films is attributed to a combined effect of the heavy element iodine and strong phonon scattering. Accordingly, we achieve a large thermoelectric figure of merit of ZT=0.21 at 300 K for the CuI films, which is three orders of magnitude higher compared with state-of-the-art p-type transparent materials. A transparent and flexible CuI-based thermoelectric element is demonstrated. Our findings open a path for multifunctional technologies combing transparent electronics, flexible electronics and thermoelectricity.

Concepts: Electricity, Optical fiber, Iodine, Thermoelectric effect, Thermoelectricity, Thermoelectric cooling


Heavily boron-doped silicon layers and boron etch-stop techniques have been widely used in the fabrication of microelectromechanical systems (MEMS). This paper provides an introduction to the fabrication process of nanoscale silicon thermoelectric devices. Low-dimensional structures such as silicon nanowire (SiNW) have been considered as a promising alternative for thermoelectric applications in order to achieve a higher thermoelectric figure of merit (ZT) than bulk silicon. Here, heavily boron-doped silicon layers and boron etch-stop processes for the fabrication of suspended SiNWs will be discussed in detail, including boron diffusion, electron beam lithography, inductively coupled plasma (ICP) etching and tetramethylammonium hydroxide (TMAH) etch-stop processes. A 7 μm long nanowire structure with a height of 280 nm and a width of 55 nm was achieved, indicating that the proposed technique is useful for nanoscale fabrication. Furthermore, a SiNW thermoelectric device has also been demonstrated, and its performance shows an obvious reduction in thermal conductivity.

Concepts: Nanotechnology, Microelectromechanical systems, Photolithography, Thermoelectric effect, Electron beam lithography, Tetramethylammonium hydroxide, Thermoelectric cooling, Dry etching


The performance of thermoelectric energy harvesters can be improved by nanostructures that exploit inelastic transport processes. One prototype is the three-terminal hopping thermoelectric device where electron hopping between quantum-dots are driven by hot phonons. Such three-terminal hopping thermoelectric devices have potential in achieving high efficiency or power via inelastic transport and without relying on heavy-elements or toxic compounds. We show in this work how output power of the device can be optimized via tuning the number and energy configuration of the quantum-dots embedded in parallel nanowires. We find that the staircase energy configuration with constant energy-step can improve the power factor over a serial connection of a single pair of quantum-dots. Moreover, for a fixed energy-step, there is an optimal length for the nanowire. Similarly for a fixed number of quantum-dots there is an optimal energy-step for the output power. Our results are important for future developments of high-performance nanostructured thermoelectric devices.

Concepts: Photon, Energy, Thermodynamics, Nanomaterials, Solar cell, Thermoelectric effect, Thermoelectricity, Thermoelectric cooling


Due to the rising need for clean energy, thermoelectricity has raised as a potential alternative to reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Specifically, thermoelectric devices based on polymers could offer an efficient path for near-room temperature energy harvesters. Thus, control over thermoelectric properties of conducting polymers is crucial and, herein, the structural, electrical and thermoelectric properties of poly(3,4-ethylenedioxythiophene) (PEDOT) thin films doped with p-toluenesulfonate (Tos) molecules were investigated with regards to thin film processing.

Concepts: Electricity, Thermodynamics, Bismuth telluride, Thermoelectric effect, Energy harvesting, Thermoelectricity, Thermoelectric cooling, Thermo


The widespread use of thermoelectric technology is constrained by a relatively low conversion efficiency of the bulk alloys, which is evaluated in terms of a dimensionless figure of merit (zT). The zT of bulk alloys can be improved by reducing lattice thermal conductivity through grain boundary and point-defect scattering, which target low- and high-frequency phonons. Dense dislocation arrays formed at low-energy grain boundaries by liquid-phase compaction in Bi(0.5)Sb(1.5)Te3 (bismuth antimony telluride) effectively scatter midfrequency phonons, leading to a substantially lower lattice thermal conductivity. Full-spectrum phonon scattering with minimal charge-carrier scattering dramatically improved the zT to 1.86 ± 0.15 at 320 kelvin (K). Further, a thermoelectric cooler confirmed the performance with a maximum temperature difference of 81 K, which is much higher than current commercial Peltier cooling devices.

Concepts: Density, Thermodynamics, Thermal conductivity, Raman scattering, Phonon, Thermoelectric effect, Thermoelectricity, Thermoelectric cooling


Artificial nanostructures have improved prospects of thermoelectric systems by enabling selective scattering of phonons and demonstrating significant thermal conductivity reductions. While the low thermal conductivity provides necessary temperature gradients for thermoelectric conversion, the heat generation is detrimental to electronic systems where high thermal conductivity are preferred. The contrasting needs of thermal conductivity are evident in thermoelectric cooling systems, which call for a fundamental breakthrough. Here we show a silicon nanostructure with vertically etched holes, or holey silicon, uniquely combines the low thermal conductivity in the in-plane direction and the high thermal conductivity in the cross-plane direction, and that the anisotropy is ideal for lateral thermoelectric cooling. The low in-plane thermal conductivity due to substantial phonon boundary scattering in small necks sustains large temperature gradients for lateral Peltier junctions. The high cross-plane thermal conductivity due to persistent long-wavelength phonons effectively dissipates heat from a hot spot to the on-chip cooling system. Our scaling analysis based on spectral phonon properties captures the anisotropic size effects in holey silicon and predicts the thermal conductivity anisotropy ratio up to 20. Our numerical simulations demonstrate the thermoelectric cooling effectiveness of holey silicon is at least 30% greater than that of high-thermal-conductivity bulk silicon and 400% greater than that of low-thermal-conductivity chalcogenides; these results contrast with the conventional perception preferring either high or low thermal conductivity materials. The thermal conductivity anisotropy is even more favorable in laterally confined systems and will provide effective thermal management solutions for advanced electronics.

Concepts: Thermodynamics, Heat, Thermal conductivity, Phonon, Thermoelectric effect, Nanostructure, Sculptured thin film, Thermoelectric cooling


Solid state thermoelectric cooling is based on the electronic Peltier effect, which cools via an electronic heat current in the absence of an applied temperature gradient. In this work, we demonstrate that equivalently, a phonon Peltier effect may arise in the non-linear thermoelectric transport regime of a dissipative quantum dot thermoelectric setup described via Anderson-Holstein model. This effect leads to an electron induced phonon heat current in the absence of a thermal gradient. Utilizing the modification of quasi-equilibrium phonon distribution via charge induced phonon accumulation, we show that in a special case the polarity of the phonon heat current can be reversed so that setup can dump heat into the hotter reservoirs. In further exploring possibilities that can arise from this effect, we propose a novel charge-induced phonon switching mechanism that may be incited via electrostatic gating.

Concepts: Electron, Electric charge, Energy, Fundamental physics concepts, Thermodynamics, Thermoelectric effect, Standard Model, Thermoelectric cooling


The exposure of the skin to low-frequency (20-100 kHz) ultrasound is a well-established method for increasing its permeability to drugs. The mechanism underlying this permeability increase has been found to be inertial cavitation within the coupling fluid. This study investigated the influence of acoustic reflections on the inertial cavitation dose during low-frequency (20 kHz) exposure in an in vitro skin sonoporation setup. This investigation was conducted using a passive cavitation detector that monitored the broadband noise emission within a modified Franz diffusion cell. Two versions of this diffusion cell were employed. One version had acoustic conditions that were similar to those of a standard Franz diffusion cell surrounded by air, whereas the second was designed to greatly reduce the acoustic reflection by submerging the diffusion cell in a water bath. The temperature of the coupling fluid in both setups was controlled using a novel thermoelectric cooling system. At an ultrasound intensity of 13.6 W/cm2, the median inertial cavitation dose when the acoustic reflections were suppressed, was found to be only about 15% lower than when reflections were not suppressed.

Concepts: Acoustics, Ultrasound, Sound, Sonar, Sonoluminescence, Cavitation, Sonoporation, Thermoelectric cooling


ZnO is a potential thermoelectric material because of its non-toxicity, high thermal stability, and relatively high Seebeck coefficient (S) of metal oxides. However, the extremely low figure of merit (zT), which comes from a high thermal conductivity (κ) over 40 W m-1 K-1, limits the thermoelectric application of ZnO. In particular, below 500 K, ZnO exhibits a nearly negligible zT (<10-3), unless a dopant is incorporated into the crystal structure. Here, we propose a new strategy for achieving a reduced κ and a correspondingly increased zT of pure ZnO over a wide temperature range from 333 K to 723 K by forming an ∼72 nm thick, 3D continuous ultrathin nanoshell structure. The suppressed κ of the 3D ZnO film is ∼3.6 W m-1 K-1 at 333 K, which is ∼38 times lower than that of the blanket ZnO film (3.2 μm thick), which was set as a reference. The experimental zT of the 3D ZnO film is ∼0.017 at 333 K, which is the highest value among pure ZnO reported to date and is estimated to increase by ∼0.072 at 693 K according to the Debye-Callaway approach. Large-area (∼1 in2) fabrication of the 3D ZnO film with high structural uniformity allows the realization of an integrated thermoelectric device, which generates ∼60 mV at a temperature difference of 40 K along the in-plane direction.

Concepts: Structure, Temperature, Thermodynamics, Heat, Electrical conductivity, Thermoelectric effect, Thermoelectricity, Thermoelectric cooling


Thermoelectric materials can be used as the active materials in thermoelectric generators and as Peltier coolers for direct energy conversion between heat and electricity. Apart from inorganic thermoelectric materials, thermoelectric polymers have been receiving great attention due to their unique advantages including low cost, high mechanical flexibility, light weight, low or no toxicity, and intrinsically low thermal conductivity. The power factor of thermoelectric polymers has been continuously rising, and the highest ZT value is more than 0.25 at room temperature. The power factor can be further improved by forming composites with nanomaterials. This article provides a review of recent developments on thermoelectric polymers and polymer composites. It focuses on the relationship between thermoelectric properties and the materials structure, including chemical structure, microstructure, dopants, and doping levels. Their thermoelectric properties can be further improved to be comparable to inorganic counterparts in the near future.

Concepts: Electricity, Energy, Thermodynamics, Heat, Materials science, Entropy, Thermoelectric effect, Thermoelectric cooling