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E. Dimaggio, G. Pennelli, "Potentialities of silicon nanowire forests for thermoelectric generation" Nanotechnology 29, 135401, February 2018

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Silicon is a material with very good thermoelectric properties, with regard to Seebeck coefficient and electrical conductivity. Low thermal conductivities, and hence high thermal to electrical conversion efficiencies, can be achieved in nanostructures, which are smaller than the phonon mean free path but large enough to preserve the electrical conductivity. We demonstrate that it is possible to fabricate a leg of a thermoelectric generator based on large collections of long nanowires, placed perpendicularly to the two faces of a silicon wafer. The process exploits the metal assisted etching technique which is simple, low cost, and can be easily applied to large surfaces. Copper can be deposited by electrodeposition on both faces, so that contacts can be provided, on top of the nanowires. Thermal conductivity of silicon nanowire forests with more than 10^7 nanowires mm^2 have been measured; the result is comparable with that achieved by several groups on devices based on few nanowires. On the basis of the measured parameters, numerical calculations of the efficiency of silicon-based thermoelectric generators are reported, and the potentialities of these devices for thermal to electrical energy conversion are shown. Criteria to improve the conversion efficiency are suggested and described.