The control of electronic and thermal transport through material interfaces is crucial for numerous micro and nanoelectronics applications and quantum devices. Here we report on the engineering of the electro-thermal properties of semiconductor-superconductor (Sm-S) electronic cooler junctions by a nanoscale insulating tunnel barrier introduced between the Sm and S electrodes. Unexpectedly, such an interface barrier does not increase the junction resistance but strongly reduces the detrimental sub-gap leakage current. These features are key to achieving high cooling power tunnel junction refrigerators, and we demonstrate unparalleled performance in silicon-based Sm-S electron cooler devices with orders of magnitudes improvement in the cooling power in comparison to previous works. By adapting the junctions in strain-engineered silicon coolers we also demonstrate efficient electron temperature reduction from 300 mK to below 100 mK. Investigations on junctions with different interface quality indicate that the previously unexplained sub-gap leakage current is strongly influenced by the Sm-S interface states. These states often dictate the junction electrical resistance through the well-known Fermi level pinning effect and, therefore, superconductivity could be generally used to probe and optimize metal-semiconductor contact behaviour.