Thermal transport in compensated semimetals: Effect of electron-electron scattering on Lorenz ratio

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It is well known that the electronic thermal conductivity of clean compensated semimetals can be greatly enhanced over the electric conductivity by the availability of an ambipolar mechanism of conduction, whereby electrons and holes flow in the same direction experiencing negligible Coulomb scattering as well as negligible impurity scattering. This enhancement—resulting in a breakdown of the Wiedemann-Franz law with an anomalously large Lorenz ratio—has been recently observed in two-dimensional monolayer and bilayer graphene near the charge neutrality point. In contrast to this, three-dimensional compensated semimetals such as WP2 and Sb are typically found to show a reduced Lorenz ratio. We investigate the reasons for this difference, focusing on the low-temperature regime where the electron-electron scattering is expected to dominate over other scattering mechanisms. We show that the different regimes of Fermi statistics (nondegenerate electron-hole liquid in graphene versus degenerate electron-hole liquid in compensated semimetals) are not sufficient to explain the reduction of the Lorenz ratio in the latter. We propose that the solution of the puzzle lies in the large separation of electron and hole pockets in momentum space, which allows compensated semimetals to sustain sizable regions of electron-hole accumulation near the contacts. These accumulations suppress the ambipolar conduction mechanism and effectively split the system into two independent electron and hole conductors. We present a quantitative theory of the crossover from ambipolar to unipolar conduction as a function of the size of the electron-hole accumulation regions, and show that it naturally leads to a sample-size-dependent thermal conductivity.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhysical Review B
Issue number21
Early online date18 Dec 2020
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 18 Dec 2020