Researchers at Caltech have demonstrated new materials that could boost the efficiency of thermoelectric devices. They’ve demonstrated the design using silicon, but say it should improve the performance of other thermoelectric materials, too. A good thermoelectric material conducts electricity very well but conducts heat poorly.
Caltech researchers have come up with a new nanoscale design for thermoelectric materials. They believe their design works by a different mechanism–instead of diverting the phonons, it slows them down considerably. The researchers have demonstrated the nanomesh design in thin films of silicon riddled with a regular array of nanoscale pores. Compared to an unpatterned silicon film, the nanomesh conducts 10 times less heat.
The researchers need to do more experiments to prove that the material is indeed slowing down phonons, or to establish how it actually works. In addition, the group is developing the chemical-etching technique they used to make the nanomeshes in silicon to apply it to other thermoelectric materials that are more efficient to start with.
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