PerspectiveTHERMOELECTRICS

Seeking new, highly effective thermoelectrics

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Science  13 Mar 2020:
Vol. 367, Issue 6483, pp. 1196-1197
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaz9426

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Summary

Thermoelectric technology can directly and reversibly convert heat to electrical energy. Although thermoelectric energy conversion will never be as efficient as a steam engine (1), improving thermoelectric performance can potentially make a technology commercially competitive. Thermoelectric conversion efficiency is estimated by the so-called dimensionless figure of merit, ZT = S2σT/κ, where S, σ, T, and κ denote the Seebeck coefficient, electrical conductivity, working temperature, and thermal conductivity, respectfully . These parameters are strongly coupled, and improving the final ZT is challenging as a result. Strategies for boosting thermoelectric performance include nanostructuring, band engineering, nanomagnetic compositing, high-throughput screening, and others (2). Many of these strategies create a high ZT in a narrow range of temperatures, limiting the overall energy conversion. Finding materials with wider operating temperature ranges may require rethinking development strategies.

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