Disordered zinc in Zn4Sb3 with phonon-glass and electron-crystal thermoelectric properties

G. Jeffrey Snyder*, Mogens Christensen, Eiji Nishibori, Thierry Caillat, Bo Brummerstedt Iversen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

620 Scopus citations

Abstract

By converting waste heat into electricity, thermoelectric generators could be an important part of the solution to today's energy challenges. The compound Zn4Sb3 is one of the most efficient thermoelectric materials known. Its high efficiency results from an extraordinarily low thermal conductivity in conjunction with the electronic structure of a heavily doped semiconductor. Previous structural studies have been unable to explain this unusual combination of properties. Here, we show through a comprehensive structural analysis using single-crystal X-ray and powder-synchrotron-radiation diffraction methods, that both the electronic and thermal properties of Zn 4Sb3 can be understood in terms of unique structural features that have been previously overlooked. The identification of Sb 3- ions and Sbg4- dimers reveals that Zn 4Sb3 is a valence semiconductor with the ideal stoichiometry Zn13Sb10-. In addition, the structure contains significant disorder, with zinc atoms distributed over multiple positions. The discovery of glass-like interstitial sites uncovers a highly effective mechanism for reducing thermal conductivity. Thus Zn 4Sb3 is in many ways an ideal 'phonon glass, electron crystal' thermoelectric material.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)458-463
Number of pages6
JournalNature materials
Volume3
Issue number7
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry(all)
  • Materials Science(all)
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering

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