Thin-film nano-structured materials offer the potential to enhance the performance of thermoelectrics, with near-term capabilities like small-footprint coolers for lasers and microprocessors. Our recent focus has been to transition the enhanced figure-of-merit (ZT) in p-type Bi2Te3/Sb2Te3 and n-type Bi2Te3/Bi2Te3-xSe
superlattices to performance at the module level with several device demonstrations. We have been able to obtain a best ZT of ∼2 in a p-n couple, the fundamental cooling or power conversion unit in an operational module. In addition, we have been able to demonstrate p-n couple ZT of as much as 1.6 from heat-to-power efficiency data. The thermal interface resistances between the active device and the external heat source have been optimized. A power level of 38 mW per couple for a ΔT of about 107K, with 4-micron-thick element, was obtained. This translates to an active power density of ∼54 W/cm2 and a mini-module power density of ∼10.5 W/cm2. In short, power devices with thin-film superlattices are a real possibility. In the cooling arena, we have been able to obtain over 50K active cooling with thin-film modules, useable in several laser and microprocessor cooling needs. This is in spite of severe thermal management issues that had to be overcome noting that the “true” hot-side temperature, and hence the “true” ΔT, across the device are much higher. Even so, we have p-n superlattice couples that show twice the cooling Δ
, compared to the best bulk p-n couples at cryogenic temperatures. Some of the challenges that remain to be addressed in the full development of this materials technology and thoughts on further progress in nano-structured materials are presented.