Power generation from nanostructured PbTe-based thermoelectrics: comprehensive development from materials to modules†
In this work, we demonstrate the use of high performance nanostructured PbTe-based materials in high conversion efficiency thermoelectric modules. We fabricated the samples of PbTe–2% MgTe doped with 4% Na and PbTe doped with 0.2% PbI2 with high thermoelectric figure of merit (ZT) and sintered them with Co–Fe diffusion barriers for use as p- and n-type thermoelectric legs, respectively. Transmission electron microscopy of the PbTe legs reveals two shapes of nanostructures, disk-like and spherical. The reduction in lattice thermal conductivity through nanostructuring gives a ZT of ∼1.8 at 810 K for p-type PbTe and ∼1.4 at 750 K for n-type PbTe. Nanostructured PbTe-based module and segmented-leg module using Bi2Te3 and nanostructured PbTe were fabricated and tested with hot-side temperatures up to 873 K in a vacuum. The maximum conversion efficiency of ∼8.8% for a temperature difference (ΔT) of 570 K and ∼11% for a ΔT of 590 K have been demonstrated in the nanostructured PbTe-based module and segmented Bi2Te3/nanostructured PbTe module, respectively. Three-dimensional finite-element simulations predict that the maximum conversion efficiency of the nanostructured PbTe-based module and segmented Bi2Te3/nanostructured PbTe module reaches 12.2% for a ΔT of 570 K and 15.6% for a ΔT of 590 K respectively, which could be achieved if the electrical and thermal contact between the nanostructured PbTe legs and Cu interconnecting electrodes is further improved.