Thermal conductivity of porous polycrystalline PbTe

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PbTe is a leading thermoelectric material at intermediate temperatures, largely thanks to its low lattice thermal conductivity. However, its efficiency is too low to compete with other forms of power generation. This efficiency can be effectively enhanced by designing nanostructures capable of scattering phonons over a wide range of length scales to reduce the lattice thermal conductivity. The presence of grain boundaries can reduce the thermal conductivity to ∼ 0.5 Wm−1K−1 for small vacancy concentrations and grain sizes. However, grains anneal at finite temperature, and equilibrium and metastable grain size distributions determine the extent of the reduction in thermal conductivity. In the present work, we propose a phase-field model informed by molecular dynamics simulations to study the annealing process in PbTe and how it is affected by the presence of grain boundaries and voids. We find that the thermal conductivity of PbTe is reduced by up to 35% in the porous material at low temperatures. We observe that a phase transition at a finite density of voids governs the kinetics of impeding grain growth by Zener pinning.
Original languageEnglish
Article number014604
Number of pages14
JournalPhysical Review Materials
Publication statusAccepted - 01 Jan 2021

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