Beating the amorphous limit in thermal conductivity by superlattices design

H Mizuno and S Mossa and JL Barrat, SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 5, 14116 (2015).

DOI: 10.1038/srep14116

The value measured in the amorphous structure with the same chemical composition is often considered as a lower bound for the thermal conductivity of any material: the heat carriers are strongly scattered by disorder, and their lifetimes reach the minimum time scale of thermal vibrations. An appropriate design at the nano-scale, however, may allow one to reduce the thermal conductivity even below the amorphous limit. In the present contribution, using molecular-dynamics simulation and the Green-Kubo formulation, we study systematically the thermal conductivity of layered phononic materials (superlattices), by tuning different parameters that can characterize such structures. We have discovered that the key to reach a lower-than-amorphous thermal conductivity is to block almost completely the propagation of the heat carriers, the superlattice phonons. We demonstrate that a large mass difference in the two intercalated layers, or weakened interactions across the interface between layers result in materials with very low thermal conductivity, below the values of the corresponding amorphous counterparts.

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