Electronic efficiency in nanostructured thermionic and thermoelectric devices

M. F. O'Dwyer, R. A. Lewis, C. Zhang, T. E. Humphrey
2005 Physical Review B  
Advances in solid-state device design now allow the spectrum of transmitted electrons in thermionic and thermoelectric devices to be engineered in ways that were not previously possible. Here we show that the shape of the electron energy spectrum in these devices has a significant impact on their performance. We distinguish between traditional thermionic devices where electron momentum is filtered in the direction of transport only and a second type, in which the electron filtering occurs
more » ... tering occurs according to total electron momentum. Such 'total momentum filtered' kr thermionic devices could potentially be implemented in, for example, quantum dot superlattices. It is shown that whilst total momentum filtered thermionic devices may achieve efficiency equal to the Carnot value, traditional thermionic devices are limited to efficiency below this. Our second main result is that the electronic efficiency of a device is not only improved by reducing the width of the transmission filter as has previously been shown, but also strongly depends on whether the transmission probability rises sharply from zero to full transmission. The benefit of increasing efficiency through a sharply rising transmission probability is that it can be achieved without sacrificing device power, in contrast to the use of a narrow transmission filter which can greatly reduce power. We show that devices which have a sharply-rising transmission probability significantly outperform those which do not and it is shown such transmission probabilities may be achieved with practical single and multibarrier devices. Finally, we comment on the implications of the effect the shape of the electron energy spectrum on the efficiency of thermoelectric devices.
doi:10.1103/physrevb.72.205330 fatcat:xacoylfjifh2zn2nk5dqf42vfy