Abstract Starting from elemental bismuth and tellurium, bismuth telluride (Bi 2Te 3) nanopowders were successfully prepared by vacuum arc plasma evaporation (VAPE) technique for the first time. The phase composition in the obtained nanopowders is closely related with the Bi:Te atomic ratio in starting precursor. The microstructure and morphology of the samples were characterized via X-ray diffraction (XRD), transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and selected area electron diffraction (SAED). Compositional analysis was also carried out by energy dispersive analysis of X-rays (EDAX). The as-synthesized Bi 2Te 3 nanopowders have a rhombohedral crystal structure with lattice parameters a = 4.381 Å and c = 30.310 Å. The average particle size is about 35 nm obtained from TEM and confirmed from XRD results.