Icosahedral boron-rich solids are refractory materials composed of twelve-atom boron-rich icosahedral units with strong intericosahedral linkages. These distinctive structures admit unusual electronic and thermal transport properties. Here the distinctive (three-center) bonding which underlies these materials is first described. Then it is shown how insulators, semiconductors and highly degenerate (metal-like) materials emerge from the same basic structure with appropriate substitutions.
The electronic transport of the boron carbides is then addressed. The boron carbides are degenerate p-type semiconductors in which the charge carriers are diamagnetically aligned pairs of electrons which hop between icosahedra. Uniquely, this thermally activated hopping conductivity increases with increasing hydrostatic pressure. However, the Seebeck coefficient (thermoelectric power) is uncharacteristic of a degenerate semiconductor. Namely, the Seebeck coefficient is typically both large and an increasing function of temperature. In addition, despite the hardness and refractory character of these materials, their thermal conductivities can be surprisingly low with a glass-like temperature dependence. These features are manifestations of the distinctive structure and bonding of these solids. In fact, this novel mix of properties makes the boron carbides exceptionally good very-high-temperature p-type thermoelectric materials.
Icosahedral boron-rich solids have additional potential as high temperature semiconductors. In particular, the wide-gap icosahedral boronrich pnictides, B12P2 and B12As2, may be doped to form wide-gap refractory semiconductors. For example, replacement of the group V element with either a group VI or a group IV element is expected to yield n-type and ptype material, respectively.