High Seebeck coefficient by creating large density-of-states effective mass through either electronic structure modification or manipulating nanostructures is commonly considered as a route to advanced thermoelectrics. However, large density-of-state due to flat bands leads to large transport effective mass, which results in a simultaneous decrease of mobility. In fact, the net effect of such a high effective mass is a lower thermoelectric figure of merit, zT, when the carriers are predominantly scattered by phonons according to the deformation potential theory of Bardeen–Shockley. We demonstrate that the beneficial effect of light effective mass contributes to high zT in n-type thermoelectric PbTe, where doping and temperature can be used to tune the effective mass. This clear demonstration of the deformation potential theory to thermoelectrics shows that the guiding principle for band structure engineering should be low effective mass along the transport direction.
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