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Open Access Publications from the University of California

High Temperature Experimental Characterization of Microscale Thermoelectric Effects

  • Author(s): Favaloro, Tela
  • Advisor(s): Shakouri, Ali
  • et al.
Creative Commons 'BY-NC-ND' version 4.0 license


High Temperature Experimental Characterization of Microscale Thermoelectric Effects By Tela Favaloro

Thermoelectric devices have been employed for many years as a reliable energy conversion technology for applications ranging from the cooling of sensors or charge coupled devices to the direct conversion of heat into electricity for remote power generation. However, its relatively low conversion efficiency has limited the implementation of thermoelectric materials for large scale cooling and waste heat recovery applications. Recent advances in semiconductor growth technology have enabled the precise and selective engineering of material properties to improve the thermoelectric figure of merit and thus the efficiency of thermoelectric devices. Accurate characterization at the intended operational temperature of novel thermoelectric materials is a crucial component of the optimization process in order to fundamentally understand material behavior and evaluate performance.

The objective of this work is to provide the tools necessary to characterize high efficiency bulk and thin-film materials for thermoelectric energy conversion. The techniques developed here are not bound to specific material or devices, but can be generalized to any material system.

Thermoreflectance imaging microscopy has proven to be invaluable for device thermometry owing to its high spatial and temporal resolutions. It has been utilized in this work to create two-dimensional temperature profiles of thermoelectric devices during operation used for performance analysis of novel materials, identification of defects, and visualization of high speed transients in a high-temperature imaging thermostat. We report the development of a high temperature imaging thermostat capable of high speed transient thermoelectric characterization. In addition, we present a noninvasive method for thermoreflectance coefficient calibration ideally suited for vacuum and thus high temperature employment. This is the first analysis of the thermoreflectance coefficient of commonly used metals at high-temperatures.

High temperature vacuum thermostats are designed and fabricated with optical imaging capability and interchangeable measurement stages for various electrical and thermoelectric characterizations. We demonstrate the simultaneous measurement of in-plane electrical conductivity and Seebeck coefficient of thin-film or bulk thermoelectric materials. Furthermore, we utilize high-speed circuitry to implement the transient Harman technique and directly determine the cross-plane figure of merit of thin film thermoelectric materials at high temperatures.

Transient measurements on thin film devices are subject to complications from the growth substrate, non-ideal contacts and other detrimental thermal and electrical effects. A strategy is presented for optimizing device geometry to mitigate the impact of these parasitics. This design enabled us to determine the cross-plane thermoelectric material properties in a single high temperature measurement of a 25μm InGaAs thin film with embedded ErAs (0.2%) nanoparticles using the bipolar transient Harman technique in conjunction with thermoreflectance thermal imaging. This approach eliminates discrepancies and potential device degradation from the multiple measurements necessary to obtain individual material parameters. Finite element method simulations are used to analyze non-uniform current and temperature distributions over the device area and determine the three dimensional current path for accurate extraction of material properties from the thermal images. Results match with independent measurements of thermoelectric material properties for the same material composition, validating this approach.

We apply high magnification thermoreflectance imaging to create temperature maps of vanadium dioxide nanobeams and examine electro-thermal energy conversion along the nanobeam length. The metal to insulator transition of strongly correlated materials is subject to strong lattice coupling which brings about the unique one-dimensional alignment of metal-insulator domains along nanobeams. Many studies have investigated the effects of stress on the metal to insulator transition and hence the phase boundary, but few have directly examined the temperature profile across the metal-insulating interface. Here, thermoreflectance microscopy reveals the underlying behavior of single-crystalline VO2 nanobeams in the phase coexisting regime. We directly observe highly localized alternating Peltier heating and cooling as well as Joule heating concentrated at the domain interfaces, indicating the significance of the domain walls and band offsets. Moreover, we are able to elucidate strain accumulation along the nanobeam and distinguish between two insulating phases of VO2 through detection of the opposite polarity of their respective thermoreflectance coefficients.

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