PbTe, one of the most promising thermoelectric materials, has recently demonstrated a thermoelectric figure of merit (ZT) of above 2.0 when alloyed with group II elements. The improvements are due mainly to significant reduction of lattice thermal conductivity (κl), which was in turn attributed to nanoparticle precipitates. However, a fundamental understanding of various phonon scattering mechanisms within the bulk alloy is still lacking. In this work, we apply the newly-developed density-functional-theory-based compressive sensing lattice dynamics approach to model lattice heat transport in PbTe, MTe, and Pb0.94M0.06Te (M = Mg, Ca, Sr, and Ba) and compare our results with experimental measurements, with focus on the strain effect and mass disorder scattering. We find that (1) CaTe, SrTe, and BaTe in the rock-salt structure exhibit much higher κl than PbTe, while MgTe in the same structure shows anomalously low κl; (2) lattice heat transport of PbTe is extremely sensitive to static strain induced by alloying atoms in solid solution form; (3) mass disorder scattering plays a major role in reducing κl for Mg/Ca/Sr-alloyed PbTe through strongly suppressing the lifetimes of intermediate- and high-frequency phonons, while for Ba-alloyed PbTe, precipitated nanoparticles are also important.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)