Improved Thermoelectric Figure-of-Merit in Skutterudites

Technology #13214

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Professor Gang Chen
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
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Professor Zhifeng Ren
Boston College
Qing Hao
Department of Materials Science and Engineering, MIT
Jian Yang
Boston College
Xiao Yan
Boston College
Qinyu He
Boston College
Managed By
Christopher Noble
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Clean and Renewable Energy
Patent Protection

Thermoelectric Skutterudite Compositions and Methods for Producing the Same

US Patent 8,883,047


Thermoelectric materials can be utilized in a variety of industrial applications including high quality power generation devices and cooling devices. They can also be used in solar conversion and extraction of automotive or industrial waste heat. Specifically, this technology improves the thermoelectric characteristics of skutterdites.

Problem Addressed

The thermoelectric properties of any material can be characterized by the thermoelectric figure-of-merit Z (or dimensionless figure-of-merit), defined as Z=S2σ/k, where S is the Seebeck Coefficient, σ is electrical conductivity, and k is total thermal conductivity. Skutterdites are a potentially attractive class of materials that be used in producing thermoelectric materials because they typically exhibit outstanding electrical properties, including high electrical charge mobilities and substantial Seebeck coefficients- which can result in high power factors. Unfortunately, they also exhibit high thermal conductivities, which can limit the overall ZT value that can be achieved by a thermoelectric material. This technology is a method of fabricating skutterdites to improve their thermoelectric figure-of-merit.


This technology starts with the generation of nanoparticles from starting materials, including one or more skutterdites, and using any of a number of methods (e.g. ball milling, vapor-liquid-condensation, etc.). The nanoparticles are then consolidated using a hot press process (e.g. direct current induced hot press, unidirectional hot press, plasma pressure compaction, or isotactic hot press) at pressure in a range between 10 MPa and 900 MPa and/or using a temperature in a range from 200oC to 800oC resulting in ZT values up to 1.


  • Improves thermoelectric figure-of-merit