Half-Heusler compound TiNiSn is one of the most promising candidates of thermoelectric materials which can be used to directly convert the waste heat to clean electric energy at high temperatures (around 1000 K). Thermoelectric power generation is an appealing approach for conserving energy and preserving the global environment. Half-Heusler compounds have the cubic C1b type ordered structure and show semiconducting behavior when their valence electron count (VEC) is around 18. TiNiSn is the most attractive one not only because it has excellent thermoelectric properties but also it consists of eco-friendly elements which are neither toxic nor costly. However, TiNiSn has a bothersome problem that fabrication of single phase TiNiSn alloy is quite difficult. We have found that TiNiSn phase forms by the ternary peritectic reaction. Thereby, inevitable non-equilibrium solidification results in the formation of impurity coexisting phases which tend to decrease thermoelectric properties.
In the present work, to establish the basis of new fabrication processes for TiNiSn alloys, we have started from the investigation on the diffusion paths which are closely related to the formation of TiNiSn phase. The diffusion behavior was evaluated using solid/liquid diffusion couples composed of the binary Ti-Ni intermetallic compounds and Sn liquid phase, where we have selected TiNi, TiNi3 and Ti2Ni as solid phases for instance. The most interesting result is that the single-phase TiNiSn phase layer forms at the TiNi/Sn(L) interface during annealing at 1073 K for only 1 h. Moreover, faceted grains of TiNiSn single-crystal grow at the interface toward the liquid Sn phase. We have confirmed two interesting microstructural features using EBSD analyses. One is that most of these TiNiSn single-crystals have the same crystallographic orientation, and the other is that TiNiSn phase layer formed on the TiNi side of the interface consists of very fine sub-microns grains. While TiNiSn solely forms at the TiNi interface, Heusler TiNi2Sn also forms with TiNiSn at the TiNi3 interface and Ti6Sn5 tends to coexist at the Ti2Ni interface.