Microscopic understanding of the in-plane thermal transport properties of 2H transition metal dichalcogenides

Collaborative paper published in Phys. Rev. B

Transition metal dichalcogenides (TMDs) are a class of layered materials that hold great promise for a wide range of applications. Their practical use can be limited by their thermal transport properties, which have proven challenging to determine accurately, both from a theoretical and experimental perspective. We have conducted a thorough theoretical investigation of the thermal conductivity of four common TMDs, MoSe2, WSe2, MoS2, and WS2, at room temperature, to determine the key factors that influence their thermal behavior. We analyze these materials using ab initio calculations performed with the siesta program, anharmonic lattice dynamics and the Boltzmann transport equation formalism, as implemented in the temperature-dependent effective potentials method. Within this framework, we analyze the microscopic parameters influencing the thermal conductivity, such as the phonon dispersion and the phonon lifetimes. The aim is to precisely identify the origin of differences in thermal conductivity among these canonical TMD materials. We compare their in-plane thermal properties in monolayer and bulk form, and we analyze how the thickness and the chemical composition affect the thermal transport behavior. We showcase how bonding and the crystal structure influence the thermal properties by comparing the TMDs with silicon, reporting the cases of bulk silicon and monolayer silicene. We find that the interlayer bond type (covalent vs. van der Waals) involved in the structure is crucial in the heat transport. In two-dimensional silicene, we observe a reduction by a factor ∼15 compared to the Si bulk thermal conductivity due to the smaller group velocities and shorter phonon lifetimes. In the TMDs, where the group velocities and the phonon bands do not vary significantly passing from the bulk to the monolayer limit, we do not see as strong a decrease in the thermal conductivity: only a factor 2–3. Moreover, our analysis reveals that differences in the thermal conductivity arise from variations in atomic species, bond strengths, and phonon lifetimes. These factors are closely interconnected and collectively impact the overall thermal conductivity. We inspect each of them separately and explain how they influence the heat transport. We also study artificial TMDs with modified masses, in order to assess how the chemistry of the compounds modifies the microscopic quantities and thus the thermal conductivity.