Zintl phases for thermoelectric devices
By converting waste heat into electricity and improving the efficiency of refrigeration systems, thermoelectric devices could play a significant role in solving today's energy problems. Increasing the thermoelectric efficiency (as measured by the thermoelectric material's figure-of-merit, zT) is critical to the development of this technology. Complex Zintl phases, in particular, make ideal candidates for thermoelectric materials because the necessary “electron–crystal, phonon–glass” properties can be engineered with an understanding of the Zintl chemistry. A recent example is the discovery that Yb14MnSb11, a transition metal Zintl compound, has twice the zT as the material currently in use at NASA. This perspective outlines a strategy to discover new high zT materials in Zintl phases, and presents results pointing towards the success of this approach.