Ultra-low Thermal Conductivity in Si/Ge Hierarchical Superlattice Nanowire

X Mu and LL Wang and XM Yang and P Zhang and AC To and TF Luo, SCIENTIFIC REPORTS, 5, 16697 (2015).

DOI: 10.1038/srep16697

Due to interfacial phonon scattering and nanoscale size effect, silicon/germanium (Si/Ge) superlattice nanowire (SNW) can have very low thermal conductivity, which is very attractive for thermoelectrics. In this paper, we demonstrate using molecular dynamics simulations that the already low thermal conductivity of Si/Ge SNW can be further reduced by introducing hierarchical structure to form Si/Ge hierarchical superlattice nanowire (H-SNW). The structural hierarchy introduces defects to disrupt the periodicity of regular SNW and scatters coherent phonons, which are the key contributors to thermal transport in regular SNW. Our simulation results show that periodically arranged defects in Si/Ge H-SNW lead to a similar to 38% reduction of the already low thermal conductivity of regular Si/Ge SNW. By randomizing the arrangement of defects and imposing additional surface complexities to enhance phonon scattering, further reduction in thermal conductivity can be achieved. Compared to pure Si nanowire, the thermal conductivity reduction of Si/Ge H-SNW can be as large as similar to 95%. It is concluded that the hierarchical structuring is an effective way of reducing thermal conductivity significantly in SNW, which can be a promising path for improving the efficiency of Si/Ge-based SNW thermoelectrics.

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