Ferroelectric engineering: Enhanced thermoelectric performance by local structural heterogeneity
Science China Materials
Although traditional ferroelectric materials are usually dielectric and nonconductive, GeTe is a typical ferroelectric semiconductor, possessing both ferroelectric and semiconducting properties. GeTe is also a widely studied thermoelectric material, whose performance has been optimized by doping with various elements. However, the impact of the ferroelectric domains on the thermoelectric properties remains unclear due to the difficulty to directly observe the ferroelectric domains and their evolutions under actual working conditions where the material is exposed to high temperatures and electric currents. Herein, based on in-situ investigations of the ferroelectric domains and domain walls in both pure and Sb-doped GeTe crystals, we have been able to analyze the dynamic evolution of the ferroelectric domains and domain walls, exposed to an electric field and temperature. Local structural heterogeneities and nano-sized ferroelectric domains are generated due to the interplay of the Sb3+ dopant and the Ge-vacancies, leading to the increased number of charged domain walls and a much improved thermoelectric performance. This work reveals the fundamental mechanism of ferroelectric thermoelectrics and provides insights into the decoupling of previously interdependent properties such as thermo-power and electrical conductivity.
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National Natural Science Foundation of China