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Forest of semiconducting nanowires for thermoelectricity

Published on 20 May 2019
Thesis presented May 20, 2019

Thermoelectric conversion has gained renewed interest based on the possibilities of increasing the efficiencies while exploiting the size effects. For instance, nanowires theoretically show increased power factors along with reduced phonon transport owing to confinement and/or size effects. In this context, the diameter of nanowires becomes a crucial parameter to address in order to obtain high thermoelectric efficiencies. A usual approach is directed towards reducing the phononic thermal conductivity in nanowires by achieving enhanced boundary scattering while reducing diameters.
In this work, thermal characterisation of a dense forest of silicon, germanium, silicon- germanium and Bi2Te3 alloy nanowires is done through a sensitive 3ω method. These forests of nanowires for silicon, germanium and silicon-germanium alloy were grown through bottom-up technique following the Vapour-Liquid-Solid mechanism in Chemical vapour deposition. The template-assisted and gold catalyst growth of nanowires with controlled diameters was achieved with the aid of tuneable nanoporous alumina as templates. The nanowires are grown following the internal geometry of the nanopores, in such a case the surface profile of the nanowires can be modified according to the fabricated geometry of nanopores. Benefiting from this fact, high-density growth of diameter-modulated nanowires was also demonstrated, where the amplitude and the period of modulation can be easily tuned during the fabrication of the templates. Even while modulating the diameters during growth, the nanowires were structurally characterised to be monocrystalline through transmission electron microscopy and X- ray diffraction analysis.
The measurement of thermal transport in these nanowires revealed a strong diameter dependent decrease in the thermal conductivity, the reduction being predominantly linked to strong boundary scattering. The mean free path contribution to the thermal conductivity observed in the bulk of fabricated nanowire materials vary a lot, where Bi2Te3 has strikingly low mean free path distribution (0.1 nm to 15 nm) as compared to the other materials. Even then, reduced thermal conductivities (≈40%) were observed in these alloys attributed to boundary and impurity scattering. Contrary to Bi2Te3, silicon and germanium bulks have broader distribution of mean free path contributing to the thermal conductivity. Even in silicon and germanium nanowires, significant reduction (10-15 times) was observed with strong dependence on the diameter of the nanowires.
While size effects reduce the thermal conductivity by enhanced boundary scattering, doping these nanowires can incorporate mass-difference scattering at atomic length scales. The temperature dependence of thermal conductivity was determined for doped nanowires of silicon to observe a reduction in thermal conductivity to a value of 4.6 W.m−1.K−1 in highly n-doped silicon nanowires with 38 nm diameter. Taking into account the electrical conductivity and calculated Seebeck coefficient, a ZT of 0.5 was observed. With these significant increases in the efficiency of silicon as a thermoelectric material, real practical applications to devices based on nanowire are now conceivable.

Thermoelectricity, nanowires, doping

On-line thesis.