A unified understanding of minimum lattice thermal conductivity

Yi Xia*, Dale Gaines, Jiangang He, Koushik Pal, Zhi Li, Mercouri G. Kanatzidis, Vidvuds Ozolinš*, Chris Wolverton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


We propose a first-principles model of minimum lattice thermal conductivity (kLmin) based on a unified theoretical treatment of thermal transport in crystals and glasses. We apply this model to thousands of inorganic compounds and find a universal behavior of kLmin in crystals in the high-temperature limit: The isotropically averaged kLmin is independent of structural complexity and bounded within a range from ∼0.1 to ∼2.6 W/(m K), in striking contrast to the conventional phonon gas model which predicts no lower bound. We unveil the underlying physics by showing that for a given parent compound, kLmin is bounded from below by a value that is approximately insensitive to disorder, but the relative importance of different heat transport channels (phonon gas versus diffuson) depends strongly on the degree of disorder. Moreover, we propose that the diffuson-dominated kLmin in complex and disordered compounds might be effectively approximated by the phonon gas model for an ordered compound by averaging out disorder and applying phonon unfolding. With these insights, we further bridge the knowledge gap between our model and the well-known Cahill–Watson–Pohl (CWP) model, rationalizing the successes and limitations of the CWP model in the absence of heat transfer mediated by diffusons. Finally, we construct graph network and random forest machine learning models to extend our predictions to all compounds within the Inorganic Crystal Structure Database (ICSD), which were validated against thermoelectric materials possessing experimentally measured ultralow kL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2302541120
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number26
StatePublished - Jun 27 2023


  • amorphous compounds
  • anharmonicity
  • lattice dynamics
  • thermal transport
  • thermoelectric materials

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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