New and more efficient thermoelectric (TE) materials that make use of nanotechnology have been developed. These new materials, called quantum wells (QW), are composed of alternating layers of 10 nm thick silicon and SiGe films. They can be deposited by various techniques and magnetron sputtering was used to obtain uniform layered structures that exhibited no degradation of the TE properties or microstructure after thermal aging. For QW thin films, the heat and current flow are “in plane” and in this orientation all of the thermoelectric properties (the Seebeck coefficient, electrical resistivty, and the thermal conductivity) are improved to increase the TE Figure of Merit, ZT (see equation 3, p. 4, for the definition of Z). From the most recent QW test data, ZTs greater than 3 at room temperature have been obtained which constitutes a significant improvement over the state-of-the-art (SOTA) bulk thermoelectrics which have ZTs less than 1. QW materials have the best measured TE power factor (Seebeck coefficient squared divided by electrical resistivity) and, combined with low thermal conductivity substrates, should provide very high efficiency TE modules. The QW TE materials with ZTs greater than 3 lead to conversion efficiencies greater than 20 percent, which allows for much wider commercial applications, particularly in the applications such as the waste-heat recovery from truck engines, refrigeration, and air conditioning, where the SOTA bulk TE modules were shown to be technically feasible but economically unjustified due to low conversion efficiencies. With higher efficiency QW materials, these applications become economically attractive. For the refrigeration and air conditioning applications, the QW TE materials are predicted to have higher coefficients of performance (COP) than the SOTA vapor compression systems, with the additional advantages of having no compressors, no moving parts, no refrigerants, no vibrations, no noise, and practically no maintenance. With such significant advantages, it is very important to have independent confirmation of the QW TE properties that lead to such improved performance. Three independent researchers have confirmed the previously measured QW TE properties using conventional test techniques, and a totally new test technique was developed to measure the TE properties and performance and the results provided yet another confirmation of the superior TE performance of the QW materials versus the SOTA bulk thermoelectrics. The temperature range for the applications is anticipated to be as low as −150C to the upper temperature of 1000C, with the power generation capacity ranging from milliwatts to kilowatts and cooling capacity ranging from watts to several tons of refrigeration.

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