Approaching the alloy limit of thermal conductivity in single- crystalline Si-based thermoelectric nanocomposites: A molecular dynamics investigation

RQ Guo and BL Huang, SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 5, 9579 (2015).

DOI: 10.1038/srep09579

Single-crystalline Si-based nanocomposites have become promising candidates for thermoelectric applications due to their prominent merits. Reducing the thermal conductivity kappa without deteriorating the electrical properties is the key to improve their performance. Through non-equilibrium molecular dynamics simulations, we show that kappa of single-crystalline Si-based nanocomposites can be reduced to the alloy limit by embedding various nanoinclusions of similar lattice constants but different lattice orientations or space symmetries with respect to the matrix. The surprisingly low kappa is mainly due to the large acoustic phonon density of states mismatch caused by the destruction of lattice periodicity at the interfaces between the nanoinclusions and matrix, which leads to the substantial reduction of phonon group velocity and relaxation time, as well as the enhancement of phonon localization. The resulting kappa is also temperature-insensitive due to the dominance of boundary scattering. The increase in thermal resistance induced by lattice structure mismatch mainly comes from the nanoinclusions and the channels between them and is caused by the enhanced boundary scattering at the interfaces parallel to the heat flux. Approaching the alloy limit of kappa with potentially improved electrical properties by fillers will remarkably improve ZT of single- crystalline Si-based nanocomposites and extend their application.

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