Nanostructured bulk silicon as an effective thermoelectric material
Thermoelectric power sources have consistently demonstrated their extraordinary reliability and longevity for deep space missions and small unattended terrestrial systems. However, more efficient bulk materials and practical devices are required to improve existing technology and expand into large-scale waste heat recovery applications. Research has long focused on complex compounds that best combine the electrical properties of degenerate semiconductors with the low thermal conductivity of glassy materials. Recently it has been found that nanostructuring is an effective method to decouple electrical and thermal transport parameters. Dramatic reductions in the lattice thermal conductivity are achieved by nanostructuring bulk silicon with limited degradation in its electron mobility, leading to an unprecedented increase by a factor of 3.5 in its performance over that of the parent single-crystal material. This makes nanostructured bulk (nano-bulk) Si an effective high temperature thermoelectric material that performs at about 70% the level of state-of-the-art Si0.8Ge0.2 but without the need for expensive and rare Ge.