Nanowires: A route to efficient thermoelectric devices

Dominguez-Adame, F.; Martin-Gonzalez, M.; Sanchez, D.; Cantarero, A.
Physica E 113, 213-225 (2019)

Miniaturization of electronic devices aims at manufacturing ever smaller products, from mesoscopic to nanoscopic sizes. This trend is challenging because the increased levels of dissipated power demands a better understanding of heat transport in small volumes. A significant amount of the consumed energy is transformed into heat and dissipated to the environment. Thermoelectric materials offer the possibility to harness dissipated energy and make devices less energy-demanding. Heat-to-electricity conversion requires materials with a strongly suppressed thermal conductivity but still high electronic conduction. Nanowires can meet nicely these two requirements because enhanced phonon scattering at the surface and defects reduces the lattice thermal conductivity while electric conductivity is not deteriorated, leading to an overall remarkable thermoelectric efficiency. Therefore, nanowires are regarded as a promising route to achieving valuable thermoelectric materials at the nanoscale. In this paper, we present an overview of key experimental and theoretical results concerning the thermoelectric properties of nanowires. The focus of this review is put on the physical mechanisms by which the efficiency of nanowires can be improved. Phonon scattering at surfaces and interfaces, enhancement of the power factor by quantum effects and topological protection of electron states to prevent the degradation of electrical conductivity in nanowires are thoroughly discussed.

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