Assessing the limitations of transparent conducting oxides as thermoelectrics

Three Thomas Young Centre members recently published results of their computational study addressing ways to overcome limitations of using earth abundant transparent conducting oxides to generate renewable energy from thermoelectric material waste heat.

Thermoelectric materials can generate renewable energy from waste heat, so would be a valuable tool in slowing global heating. Transparent conducting oxides (TCOs) are often earth-abundant, non-toxic and are essential to touchscreen devices and solar panels, so could be easily and widely commercialised as thermoelectrics if efficient. This computational study aimed to determine what the main limitations of TCOs as thermoelectrics are, and how these might be overcome.

Four TCOs (BaSnO3, CdO, SnO2 and ZnO) were studied using first-principles calculations. It was found that the major limiting factor in their efficiency is their high thermal conductivity, which is propagated with long-range phonons, particles which carry heat in the materials. This insight was used to rationalise experimental results which make use of nano-scale engineering to enhance ZnO-based thermoelectrics, and highlight the importance of computational methods in the optimisation of potential thermoelectrics.!divAbstract


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