Optimizing the thermoelectric performance of graphene nano-ribbons without degrading the electronic properties

Van-Truong Tran, Jérôme Saint-Martin, Philippe Dollfus & Sebastian Volz

Scientific Reports 7, Article number: 2313 (2017) doi:10.1038/s41598-017-02230-0

The enhancement of thermoelectric figure of merit ZT requires to either increase the power factor or reduce the phonon conductance, or even both. In graphene, the high phonon thermal conductivity is the main factor limiting the thermoelectric conversion. The common strategy to enhance ZT is therefore to introduce phonon scatterers to suppress the phonon conductance while retaining high electrical conductance and Seebeck coefficient. Although thermoelectric performance is eventually enhanced, all studies based on this strategy show a significant reduction of the electrical conductance. In this study we demonstrate that appropriate sources of disorder, including isotopes and vacancies at lowest electron density positions, can be used as phonon scatterers to reduce the phonon conductance in graphene ribbons without degrading the electrical conductance, particularly in the low-energy region which is the most important range for device operation. By means of atomistic calculations we show that the natural electronic properties of graphene ribbons can be fully preserved while their thermoelectric efficiency is strongly enhanced. For ribbons of width M = 5 dimer lines, room-temperature ZT is enhanced from less than 0.26 to more than 2.5. This study is likely to set the milestones of a new generation of nano-devices with dual electronic/thermoelectric functionalities.