An efficient solution procedure for simulating phonon transport in multiscale multimaterial systems




Loy, James Madigan

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Over the last two decades, advanced fabrication techniques have enabled the fabrication of materials and devices at sub-micron length scales. For heat conduction, the conventional Fourier model for predicting energy transport has been shown to yield erroneous results on such length scales. In semiconductors and dielectrics, energy transport occurs through phonons, which are quanta of lattice vibrations. When phase coherence effects can be ignored, phonon transport may be modeled using the semi-classical phonon Boltzmann transport equation (BTE). The objective of this thesis is to develop an efficient computational method to solve the BTE, both for single-material and multi-material systems, where transport across heterogeneous interfaces is expected to play a critical role. The resulting solver will find application in the design of microelectronic circuits and thermoelectric devices. The primary source of computational difficulties in solving the phonon BTE lies in the scattering term, which redistributes phonon energies in wave-vector space. In its complete form, the scattering term is non-linear, and is non-zero only when energy and momentum conservation rules are satisfied. To reduce complexity, scattering interactions are often approximated by the single mode relaxation time (SMRT) approximation, which couples different phonon groups to each other through a thermal bath at the equilibrium temperature. The most common methods for solving the BTE in the SMRT approximation employ sequential solution techniques which solve for the spatial distribution of the phonon energy of each phonon group one after another. Coupling between phonons is treated explicitly and updated after all phonon groups have been solved individually. When the domain length is small compared to the phonon mean free path, corresponding to a high Knudsen number ([mathematical equation]), this sequential procedure works well. At low Knudsen number, however, this procedure suffers long convergence times because the coupling between phonon groups is very strong for an explicit treatment of coupling to suffice. In problems of practical interest, such as silicon-based microelectronics, for example, phonon groups have a very large spread in mean free paths, resulting in a combination of high and low Knudsen number; in these problems, it is virtually impossible to obtain solutions using sequential solution techniques. In this thesis, a new computational procedure for solving the non-gray phonon BTE under the SMRT approximation is developed. This procedure, called the coupled ordinates method (COMET), is shown to achieve significant solution acceleration over the sequential solution technique for a wide range of Knudsen numbers. Its success lies in treating phonon-phonon coupling implicitly through a direct solution of all equations in wave vector space at a particular spatial location. To increase coupling in the spatial domain, this procedure is embedded as a relaxation sweep in a geometric multigrid. Due to the heavy computational load at each spatial location, COMET exhibits excellent scaling on parallel platforms using domain decomposition. On serial platforms, COMET is shown to achieve accelerations of 60 times over the sequential procedure for Kn<1.0 for gray phonon transport problems, and accelerations of 233 times for non-gray problems. COMET is then extended to include phonon transport across heterogeneous material interfaces using the diffuse mismatch model (DMM). Here, coupling between phonon groups occurs because of reflection and transmission. Efficient algorithms, based on heuristics, are developed for interface agglomeration in creating coarse multigrid levels. COMET is tested for phonon transport problems with multiple interfaces and shown to outperform the sequential technique. Finally, the utility of COMET is demonstrated by simulating phonon transport in a nanoparticle composite of silicon and germanium. A realistic geometry constructed from x-ray CT scans is employed. This composite is typical of those which are used to reduce lattice thermal conductivity in thermoelectric materials. The effective thermal conductivity of the composite is computed for two different domain sizes over a range of temperatures. It is found that for low temperatures, the thermal conductivity increases with temperature because interface scattering dominates, and is insensitive to temperature; the increase of thermal conductivity is primarily a result of the increase in phonon population with temperature consistent with Bose-Einstein statistics. At higher temperatures, Umklapp scattering begins to take over, causing a peak in thermal conductivity and a subsequent decrease with temperature. However, unlike bulk materials, the peak is shallow, consistent with the strong role of interface scattering. The interaction of phonon mean free path with the particulate length scale is examined. The results also suggest that materials with very dissimilar cutoff frequencies would yield a thermal conductivity which is closest to the lowest possible value for the given geometry.



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