Energy filtering has been put forth as a promising method for achieving large thermoelectric power factors in thermoelectric materials through Seebeck coefficient improvement. Materials with embedded potential barriers, such as cross-plane superlattices, provide energy filtering, in addition to low thermal conductivity, and could potentially achieve high figure of merit. Although there exist many theoretical works demonstrating Seebeck coefficient and power factor gains in idealized structures, experimental support has been scant. In most cases, the electrical conductivity is drastically reduced due to the presence of barriers. In this work, using quantum-mechanical simulations based on the nonequilibrium Green’s function method, we show that, although power factor improvements can theoretically be observed in optimized superlattices (as pointed out in previous studies), different types of deviations from the ideal potential profiles of the barriers degrade the performance, some nonidealities being so significant as to negate all power factor gains. Specifically, the effect of tunneling due to thin barriers could be especially detrimental to the Seebeck coefficient and power factor. Our results could partially explain why significant power factor improvements in superlattices and other energy-filtering nanostructures mainly fail to be realized, despite theoretical predictions.
Thermoelectric superlattices quantum transport thermoelectric power factor Seebeck coefficient energy filtering
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