Broadband phonon scattering in PbTe-based materials driven near ferroelectric phase transition by strain or alloying


The major obstacle in the design of materials with low lattice thermal conductivity is the difficulty in efficiently scattering phonons across the entire frequency spectrum. Using first-principles calculations, we show that driving PbTe materials to the brink of the ferroelectric phase transition could be a powerful strategy to solve this problem. We illustrate this concept by applying biaxial tensile (001) strain to PbTe and its alloys with another rocksalt IV-VI material, PbSe; and by alloying PbTe with a rhombohedral IV-VI material, GeTe. This induces extremely soft optical modes at the zone center, which increase anharmonic acoustic-optical coupling and decrease phonon lifetimes at all frequencies. We predict that PbTe, Pb(Se,Te), and (Pb,Ge)Te alloys driven close to the phase transition in the described manner will have considerably lower lattice thermal conductivity than that of PbTe (by a factor of 2–3). The proposed concept may open new opportunities for the development of more efficient thermoelectric materials.

Physical Review B