My recent discovery of the anomalously high thermoelectric power factor of ScN thin films demonstrates that unexpected thermoelectric materials can be found among the early transition-metal and rare-earth nitrides. Corroborated by first-principles calculations, we have well-founded hypotheses that these properties stem from nitrogen vacancies, dopants, and alloying, which introduce controllable sharp features with a large slope at the Fermi level, causing a drastically increased Seebeck coefficient. In-depth fundamental studies are needed to enable property tuning and materials design in these systems, to timely exploit my discovery and break new ground.
The project concerns fundamental, primarily experimental, studies on scandium nitride-based and related single-phase and nanostructured films. The overall goal is to understand the complex correlations between electronic, thermal and thermoelectric properties and structural features such as layering, orientation, epitaxy, dopants and lattice defects. Ab initio calculations of band structures, mixing thermodynamics, and properties are integrated with the experimental activities. Novel mechanisms are proposed for drastic reduction of the thermal conductivity with retained high power factor. This will be realized by intentionally introduced secondary phases and artificial nanolaminates; the layering causing discontinuities in the phonon distribution and thus reducing thermal conductivity.
My expertise in thin-film processing and advanced materials characterization places me in a unique position to pursue this novel high-gain approach to thermoelectrics, and an ERC starting grant will be essential in achieving critical mass and consolidating an internationally leading research platform. The scientific impact and vision is in pioneering an understanding of a novel class of thermoelectric materials with potential for thermoelectric devices for widespread use in environmentally friendly energy applications.
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