Recent experimental results on semiconductors with the skutterudite crystal structure show that these materials possess attractive transport properties and have a good potential for achieving ZT values substantially larger than for state-of-the-art thermoelectric materials. Both n-type and p-type conductivity samples have been obtained, using several preparation techniques. Associated with a low hole effective mass, very high carrier mobilities, low electrical resistivities and moderate Seebeck coefficients are obtained in p-type skutterudites. For a comparable doping level, the carrier mobilities of n-type samples are about an order of magnitude lower than the values achieved on p-type samples. However, the much larger electron effective masses and Seebeck coefficients make n-type skutterudites promising candidates as well. Unfortunately, the thermal conductivities of the binary skutterudite compounds are too large, particularly at low temperatures, to be useful for thermoelectric applications.
Several approaches to the reduction of the lattice thermal conductivity in skutterudites are being pursued: heavy doping, formation of solid solutions and alloys, study of novel ternary and filled skutterudite compounds. All those approaches have already resulted in skutterudite compositions with substantially lower thermal conductivity values in these materials. Recently, superior thermoelectric properties in the moderate to high temperature range were achieved for compositions combining alloying and “filling” of the skutterudite structure. Experimental results and mechanisms responsible for low thermal conductivity in skutterudites are discussed.