High Thermoelectric Performance of Copper Selenides

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Professor Gang Chen
Department of Mechanical Engineering, MIT
Professor Zhifeng Ren
Department of Physics, Boston College
Bo Yu
Department of Physics, Boston College
Weishu Liu
Department of Physics, Boston College
Shuo Chen
Department of Physics, Boston College
Hui Wang
Department of Physics, Boston College
Hengzhi Wang
Department of Physics, Boston College
Managed By
Christopher Noble
MIT Technology Licensing Officer - Clean and Renewable Energy
Patent Protection

Methods of Synthesizing Thermoelectric Materials

US Patent 9,306,145
Thermoelectric properties of copper selenide with ordered selenium layer and disordered copper layer
Nano Energy , May 2012, p. 472



Waste-heat-recovery systems and power generation.


Problem Addressed

Thermoelectric performance is measured by the dimensionless figure-of-merit, ZT. A good thermoelectric material has high ZT; however, it has proven to be a challenge to increase ZT from the longstanding 1.0 in thermoelectric bulk materials to higher values by minimizing the lattice contribution through the concept of the nanocomposite. The key idea of the nanocomposite is to create grains or inclusions that scatter the phonons without deteriorating electron transport. More generally, a good thermoelectric material should behave as a "phonon-glass-electron-crystal" with a high charge carrier mobility and low thermal conductivity.


This invention comprises a novel method for producing nanocomposite thermoelectric materials with high thermoelectric performance. Metals such as copper and selenium are subject to high-energy ball milling to form Cu2Se nanopowders. Afterwards, the nanopowders are consolidated into bulk samples via a hot pressing method using a conventional furnace hot press. The Cu2Se crystals combine ordered Se layers and disordered Cu layers in the unit cell, which promises a low lattice thermal conductivity and moderate electrical conductivity that are essential for a good thermoelectric material.  A ZT of ~1.6 at 700°C is achieved in the β-phase of copper selenide  (Cu2Se).




  • High thermoelectric performance
  • Fabrication method is simple, cost effective, controllable and scalable
  • Only two common elements (copper and selenium) are involved