Electrical and thermal transport in silicon germanium superlattice nanostructures has received extensive attention from scientists for understanding carrier properties at the nanoscale, and the figure-of-merit (ZT) reported in such structures has inspired engineers to develop cost-effective waste heat recovery systems. In this paper, the thermoelectric transport properties of the silicon-based superlattice- and anti-superlattice-nanocrystalline heterostructures are systematically studied by first-principles and molecular dynamics simulations combined with the Boltzmann transport theory. The thermal conductivity, which is thought to be the essential bottleneck for bulk crystalline Si to gain a high ZT value, of such structures is found to be reduced by two orders of magnitude and reaches a level far below the amorphous limit of Si. This is achieved due to the extremely strong phonon-boundary scattering at both grain boundaries and Si-Ge interfaces, which will lead to the phonon mean free path being much smaller than the grain size (Casmir limit): for instance, the dominant phonons are in range of 0.5 to 3 nm for the heterostructures with a grain size of around 8 nm. Meanwhile, the power factor can be preserved at the level comparable to bulk crystalline because of the quantum confinement effect, which resulted from the conduction band minima converge, reduction of band gap, and the short mean free path of carriers. As a result, the ZT of such superlattice based nanomembranes can reach around 0.3 at room temperature, which is two orders of magnitude higher than the bulk crystalline case. The corresponding bulk superlattice-nanocrystalline heterostructures possess a ZT value of 0.5 at room temperature, which is superior to all other bulk silicon-based thermoelectrics. Our results here show that nanostructuring the superlattice structure can further decrease the thermal conductivity while keeping the electrical transport properties at the bulk comparable level, and provides a new strategy for enhancing the thermoelectric performance of the silicon-based nanostructures.

Supplementary Material

You do not currently have access to this content.