Electronic, thermoelectric and vibrational properties of silicon nanowires and copper chalcogenides
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Silicon nanowires (SiNWs) and the copper chalcogenides, namely copper sulfide (Cu2S) and selenide Cu2Se, have diverse applications in renewable energy technology. For example, SiNWs which have direct band gaps unlike bulk Si, have the potential to radically reduce the cost of Si based photovoltaic cells. However, they degrade quickly under ambient conditions. Various surface passivations have therefore been investigated for enhancing their stability but it is not yet well understood how they affect the electronic structure of SiNWs at a fundamental level. Here, we will explore, from first-principles simulation, how fluorine, methyl and hydrogen surface passivations alter the electronic structures of  and  SiNWs via strain and quantum confinement. We also show how electronic charge states in  and  SiNWs can be effectively modelled by simple quantum wells. In addition, we address the issue of why  SiNWs are less influenced by their surface passivation than  SiNWs. Like SiNWs, Cu2S and Cu2Se also make excellent photovoltaic cells. However, they are most well known for their exceptional thermoelectric performance. This is by virtue of their even more unique solid-liquid hybrid nature which combines the low thermal conductivity and good electrical characteristics required for a high thermoelectric efficiency. We use first-principles molecular dynamics simulations to show that Cu diffusion rates in Cu2S and Cu2Se can be as high as 10-5cm2s-1. We also relate their phonon power spectra to their low thermal conductivities. Furthermore, we evaluate the thermoelectric properties of Cu2S and Cu2Se using a combination of Boltzmann transport theory and first-principles electronic structure calculations. Our results show that both Cu2S and Cu2Se are capable of maintaining high Seebeck coefficients in excess of 200μVK-1 for hole concentrations as high as 3x1020cm-3.