Fundamental limits to radiative heat transfer: Theory

Sean Molesky, Prashanth S. Venkataram, Weiliang Jin, Alejandro W. Rodriguez

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Radiative heat transfer between bodies at the nanoscale can surpass blackbody limits on thermal radiation by orders of magnitude due to contributions from evanescent electromagnetic fields, which carry no energy to the far field. Thus far, principles guiding explorations of larger heat transfer beyond planar structures have assumed utility in surface nanostructuring, via enhancement of the density of states, and the possibility that such design paradigms can approach Landauer limits, in analogy to conduction. Here we derive fundamental shape-independent limits to radiative heat transfer, applicable in near- through far-field regimes, that incorporate material and geometric constraints such as intrinsic dissipation and finite object sizes, and show that these preclude reaching the Landauer limits in all but a few restrictive scenarios. Additionally, we show that the interplay of material response and electromagnetic scattering among proximate bodies means that bodies which maximize radiative heat transfer actually maximize scattering rather than absorption. Finally, we compare our new bounds to Landauer limits as well as limits that ignore the interplay between material and geometric constraints, and show that these prior limits lead to overly optimistic predictions. Our results have ramifications for the ultimate performance of thermophotovoltaics and nanoscale cooling, as well as incandescent and luminescent devices.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number035408
JournalPhysical Review B
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 9 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Electronic, Optical and Magnetic Materials
  • Condensed Matter Physics


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