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Zn-Induced Defect Complexity for the High Thermoelectric Performance of n‑Type PbTe Compounds

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journal contribution
posted on 04.09.2021, 01:03 by Yu Cao, Hui Bai, Zhi Li, Zhengkai Zhang, Yingfei Tang, Xianli Su, Jinsong Wu, Xinfeng Tang
Although defect engineering is the core strategy to improve thermoelectric properties, there are limited methods to effectively modulate the designed defects. Herein, we demonstrate that a high ZT value of 1.36 at 775 K and a high average ZT value of 0.99 in the temperature range from 300 to 825 K are realized in Zn-containing PbTe by designing complex defects. By combining first-principles calculations and experiments, we show that Zn atoms occupy both Pb sites and interstitial sites in PbTe and couple with each other. The contraction stress induced via substitutional Zn on Pb sites alleviates the swelling stress by Zn atoms occupying the interstitial sites and promotes the solubility of interstitial Zn atoms in the structure of PbTe. The stabilization of Zn impurity as a complex defect extends the region of PbTe phase stability toward Pb0.995Zn0.02Te, while the solid solution region in the other direction of the ternary phase diagram is much smaller. The evolution of defects in PbTe was further explicitly corroborated by aberration-corrected scanning transmission electron microscopy (Cs-corrected STEM) and positron annihilation measurement. The Zn atoms compensate the Pb vacancies (VPb) and Zn interstitials (Zni) significantly improve the electron concentration, producing a high carrier mobility of 1467.7 cm2 V–1 s–1 for the Pb0.995Zn0.02Te sample. A high power factor of 4.11 mW m–1 K–2 is achieved for the Pb0.995Zn0.02Te sample at 306 K. This work provides new insights into understanding the nature and evolution of the defects in n-type PbTe as well as improving the electronic and thermal transport properties toward higher thermoelectric performance.