Thermoelectric Material Discovery May Deliver New Forms of Electric Power in the Future

Clemson physicist collaborates with Chinese and Danish collaborators to create a hybrid compound.

Thermoelectrics directly convert heat into electricity and power a wide array of items — from NASA’s Perseverance rover currently exploring ”¬†

Clemson University’s physicist joined hands with colleagues from China and Denmark in creating a novel, paradigm-shifting thermoelectric compound.

The material’s atomic arrangement, which describes how atoms are arranged in space and time, determines its properties. Solids can be either crystalline or amorphous. Crystals have atoms in an ordered and symmetrical arrangement. Amorphous materials can have random distributions of particles.

Jian He, a Clemson researcher and an international team, have created a unique hybrid compound combining crystalline and amorphous sublattices into a unique crystal-amorphic duality.

He, an associate professor at the College of Science’s Department of Physics and Astronomy, said, “our material is a unique combination atomic structure with half of being crystalline and one half being amorphous.” You would expect unique properties if you have an unusual or extraordinary atomic structure. Because properties follow structure,

Their findings were published in the high-profile energy journal Joule. It was published online today (April 16, 2021), ahead of the May 19 issue.

Researchers created the hybrid material by mixing elements from the same periodic table with different atomic sizes. They used the atomic mismatches between sulfur, tellurium, and copper to create a new compound (Cu1xAgx.2(Te1ySy). This compound’s crystallized and amorphous sublattices are intertwined into a unique crystal-amorphic duality. The new mixture had excellent thermoelectric properties.

Although this discovery does not directly impact current applications, it will likely lead to improved thermoelectrics.

He stated that “the new material performs well but is more important than that it achieves that level of performance.” Thermoelectric materials have traditionally been crystals. We show that our material is not pure crystal and can demonstrate the same performance using a material with an atomic structure.

He anticipates the new material will affect applications within 10 to 20 years.

He stated, “they can definitely do something current thermoelectric material cannot do, but they are not yet.” However, this research has a bright future.

He was not the only one involved in the research. He was joined by scientists from Shanghai Jiaotong University, Shanghai Institute of Ceramics, SUSTech and SUSTech in China, and Aarhus University Denmark.

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