Scientists Uncover Remarkable Atomic Behavior in Thermoelectric Materials

Tin Based Thermoelectric Materials

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Neutron probes of the atomic construction and dynamics of tin-based thermoelectric supplies unraveled the microscopic mechanism for his or her low thermal conductivity. Credit: Oak Ridge National Laboratory

Revealing the atomic mechanism behind thermoelectric warmth transport.

The Science

Thermoelectric gadgets flip thermal power into electrical energy by making a voltage from the temperature differential between the cold and hot sections of a tool. Researchers utilized neutrons to analyze single crystals of tin sulfide and tin selenide to higher perceive how the conversion course of occurs on the atomic scale. They measured modifications that have been temperature dependent. The exams discovered a powerful connection between structural modifications at completely different temperatures and the frequency of atomic vibrations (phonons).

This connection influences how warmth is carried out by the supplies. The research additionally recognized the perfect temperatures for power conversion. It additionally supplied elementary scientific insights which may be used to help researchers to create new supplies with improved thermoelectric efficiency.

The Impact

Thermoelectric supplies are essential for clear power expertise. Researchers used neutron scattering to uncover particulars in regards to the phonon renormalization mechanism. This is the quantum mechanics course of that explains the terribly low thermal conductivity of two widespread thermoelectric supplies. The findings would possibly assist researchers create supplies for extra environment friendly thermoelectric gadgets. It will even assist enhance renewable power conversion expertise.


Thermoelectrics convert thermal power into electrical energy. They are among the many combine of fresh power applied sciences that may mitigate the affect of local weather change. One main problem with thermoelectrics is their comparatively low efficiencies and the restricted variety of accessible supplies. To design larger effectivity supplies, scientists want a elementary understanding of the mechanism enabling ultralow thermal conductivity.

To handle this longstanding scientific puzzle, researchers from Duke University employed neutron scattering experiments, complemented by different strategies, to probe the archetypical thermoelectric supplies, tin (Sn) crystallized with sulfur (S) and selenium (Se) into binaries – SnS and SnSe.

By utilizing the superior neutron scattering devices on the Spallation Neutron Source and High Flux Isotope Reactor, Department of Energy (DOE) person amenities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, structural modifications, and phonon spectra have been measured in a large temperature vary from 150 Okay to 1050 Okay, revealing a transition at 800 Okay the place the atomic spacings develop in a single path however contract in others.

Measurement of the dynamics additionally supplied key info on the dramatic discount within the frequencies of atomic vibrations on the transition, which is liable for the lowered warmth conduction. The work additionally means that the noticed phonon habits could possibly be current in lots of different supplies with related part transitions, reminiscent of halide perovskites, oxide ferroelectrics, or thermoelectrics close to instabilities, considerably broadening the pool of potentialities for power conversion supplies.

Reference: “Extended anharmonic collapse of phonon dispersions in SnS and SnSe” by T. Lanigan-Atkins, S. Yang, J. L. Niedziela, D. Bansal, A. F. May, A. A. Puretzky, J. Y. Y. Lin, D. M. Pajerowski, T. Hong, S. Chi, G. Ehlers and O. Delaire, 4 September 2020, Nature Communications.
DOI: 10.1038/s41467-020-18121-4

The study was funded by the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science, Basic Energy Sciences, Materials Sciences, and Engineering Division. The research also used the US Department of Energy’s Office of Science user facilities.

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