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Silicon integrated circuit thermoelectric generators with a high specific power generation capacity

Abstract

Microelectronic thermoelectric generators (TEGs), which can recycle waste heat into electrical power, have applications ranging from the on-chip thermal management of integrated circuits to environmental energy sources for Internet-of-things sensors. However, the incompatibility of TEGs with silicon integrated circuit technology has prevented their broad adoption in microelectronics. Here, we report TEGs created using nanostructured silicon thermopiles fabricated on an industrial silicon complementary metal–oxide–semiconductor (CMOS) process line. These TEGs exhibit a high specific power generation capacity (up to 29 μW cm−2 K−2) near room temperature, which is competitive with typical (Bi,Sb)2(Se,Te)3-based TEGs. The high power capacity results from the ability of CMOS processing to fabricate a very high areal density of thermocouples with low packing fraction and to carefully control electrical and thermal impedances. TEG power was also found to increase significantly when thermocouple width was decreased, providing a path to further improvements. Unlike (Bi,Sb)2(Se,Te)3 TEGs, our silicon integrated circuit TEGs could be seamlessly integrated into large-scale silicon CMOS microelectronic circuits at very low marginal cost.

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Fig. 1: Description of TEG devices.
Fig. 2: Performance data on a TEG.
Fig. 3: Electrical resistance and thermal impedance models.
Fig. 4: Maximum power dependence on nanoblade width.

Data availability

The numerical data used to generate Figs. 24 in this Article are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

Work at the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) was supported by the US National Science Foundation under contract no. ECCS-1707581. The fabrication and design of TEG devices was supported by Texas Instruments (TI). The authors thank J. DeBord (TI) for help with copper metal system questions, K. Maggio (TI) for circuit design help, A. Asaadzade (UTD) for assistance with the measurements and M. Kim (UTD) and Q. Wang (UTD) for their aid in taking cross-section SEM images.

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G.H. made measurements, developed and wrote modelling code, and analysed data. H.E. designed the devices, supervised fabrication of the devices and analysed data. M.L. set up measurements, validated data and modelling, and analysed data.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Mark Lee.

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Competing interests

The fabrication and design of all TEG devices used in this work was supported by Texas Instruments. H.E. is an employee of Texas Instruments.

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Hu, G., Edwards, H. & Lee, M. Silicon integrated circuit thermoelectric generators with a high specific power generation capacity. Nat Electron 2, 300–306 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41928-019-0271-9

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