What are Skutterudites and how are they useful

Skutterudites are hydrothermal ore crystals that contain nickel. These ores have important technological uses. They have thermoelectric properties that may replace cobalt applications in the future. Skutterudites occur in nature with erythrite.

Because they have very low thermal conductivity, very high p-type mobility values, large n-type thermoelectric power values, and a large number of isostructural materials, scientists see their future value. Putting a thermoelectric generator around the automobile’s exhaust pipe could convert the exhaust into electricity that heats the interior of the car or recharges the battery.

The thermoelectric effect relates to temperature. Devices using the effect will have two differing temperatures. The effect creates electricity and increases or decreases the temperatures of different things. This effect, because of whether a scientist wants to know about the cooling or heating of a chemical reaction, has different names: Seebeck, Peltier, Thompson, or Peltier-Thompson. Seebeck relates to turning temperature differences into electricity. Peltier refers to the heat at an electric joint as happens with refrigeration. Thompson effect refers to the flow on the electrical current.

Skutterudites might revolutionalize our world as far as waste recovery in automobiles and in space power by converting the wasted chemicals into usable ones. Their uses include cooling our homes through air conditioning systems, refrigeration, and high power electrical devices. Skutterudites aid in sensors as well. Their use would reduce the need for more power and provide greater durability along with additional uses.

Filled skutterudites show themselves as good semi-conductors. A ‘filled’ skutterudite occurs when the eight sides of the crystal contain rare earth atoms. To date, one filled specimen has withstood temperatures as high as 650 degrees Celsius.  

Currently, lots of research continues to reveal more about these minerals. They appear promising substitutes in many of our less environmentally friendly technologies available today. Automotive and space research with these minerals receive some positive results. Phonons occur with many skutterudites. These prevent some of the necessary interactions within the crystal that affect the temperature. Lower temperatures have fewer phonons.

Ctirad Uher from the University of Michigan claims that by finding the correct assembly of atoms, skutterudites can convert waste into material. The key is to find that configuration. So far, the results to the average person do not seem significant with percentages being only in the less than ten percent range. But researchers gaining back even that much promises hope that someday we won’t pollute the world as much as in previous years.