Since the proposal of skutterudites as possible Phonon-Glass, Electron-Crystal materials, a lot of work has been done trying to fill the structural voids with foreign “rattling” atoms. In order to keep the electronic count per unit cell constant (and thus, the semiconducting properties of most of the compounds under study) partial replacement of either the cation or the anion in the original formula by an appropriate neighbor in the periodic table is an option. In the case of antimonides, replacing part of the Sb with Ge or Sn in order to compensate the extra charge introduced by void fillers has proved useful for compounds based on rare-earth filled IrSb3. In the case of RhSb3, we found that large quantities of Sn can be incorporated into the skutterudite structure of RhSb3 without either filling the voids or producing charge carriers.
We have analyzed the stability of several cross-sections of the Rh-Sb-Sn ternary system and have found a wide range of compositions with the basic skutterudite structure as we vary the Sn content. In all the cases, the tin goes substitutionally into the antimony sites. The voids remain empty. Density measurements suggest the existence of metal vacancies, confirmed by Rietveld refinement of the powder X-ray diffraction patterns. The possibility of Sn-induced mixed-valence of Rh on the anion sites is being investigated.