In the realm of thermoelectric technology, there is an ongoing exploration for better, more efficient materials. Scientists keep hard at work testing, hypothesizing, and theorizing about ways to make devices that can withstand higher temperatures, pressures, with a higher energy output, and can function at smaller temperature differences.
Researchers reported a recent discovery. A discovery of a new class of half-Heusler thermoelectric compounds (identified by their number of valence electrons, giving them a special crystalline structure), including one with a record high figure of metric. A metric is used to determine how efficiently a thermoelectric material can convert heat to electricity. It maintained the high figure of merit at all temperatures, a highly desired capability.
Although there have been many promising materials discovered, most are incapable of widespread commercial applications. The ideal half-Heusler compounds discovered are composed of tantalum, iron and antimony yielded results that are "quite promising for thermoelectric power generation," according to the researchers. This combination of materials is quite unique, but also complex due to their very disparate properties. Tantalum and antimony have a huge difference in melting points and completely opposite compositions.
These researchers claim to have discovered 6 undocumented compounds, with 5 existing with the stable, half-Heusler crystal structure. In the research report, they wrote, "The p-type TaFeSb-based half-Heusler, one of the compounds discovered in this work, demonstrated a very promising thermoelectric performance."
This is a very promising discovery for the future of thermoelectric devices, as efficiency levels never before attained are on the brink of being reached. To conclude, "It should be noted that careful experimental synthesis and evaluation of a compound are costly, while most theoretical calculations, especially as applied in high throughput modes, are relatively inexpensive," they wrote. "As such, it might be beneficial to use more sophisticated theoretical studies in predicting compounds before devoting the efforts for careful experimental study."
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