Evaluation of thermal conductivity of organic phase-change materials from equilibrium and non-equilibrium computer simulations: Paraffin as a test case

Victor M. Nazarychev, Artyom D. Glova, Igor V. Volgin, Sergey V. Larin, Alexey V. Lyulin, Sergey V. Lyulin, Andrey A. Gurtovenko (Corresponding author)

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18 Citations (Scopus)


An accurate in silico evaluation of the thermal conductivity is critical for improving the thermal properties of organic phase-change materials on a rational basis. To explore the impact of a theoretical model on the computed thermal conductivity, here we employed the equilibrium and the non-equilibrium molecular dynamics (MD) simulations to study paraffin (n-eicosane) bulk samples, in both crystalline and liquid states, with the use of 10 atomistic force fields, both all-atom and united-atom ones. Overall, we found that the equilibrium MD method is preferable for computing the thermal conductivity of n-eicosane samples (at least for a 10-nm-size simulation box). For the n-eicosane crystals, the all-atom models provide larger thermal conductivity coefficients than their united-atom counterparts and, correspondingly, a better match with the experimental data. This is most likely because the crystalline lattice of the models with explicit hydrogen atoms is additionally stabilized by the electrostatic interactions. In contrast, in the liquid state, most all-atom models overestimate the experimental data for n-eicosane, providing thereby worse performance as compared to the united-atom force fields. However, when it comes to the experimentally observed increase in the thermal conductivity of n-eicosane samples upon crystallization, only all-atom models are able to reproduce quantitatively the experimental data. Each force field of n-eicosane was also characterized by an overall score which accumulated the deviations of the computed thermal conductivity coefficients from the experimental values, for both crystalline and liquid samples. It turns out that the best performance among 10 atomistic models of n-eicosane is observed for the all-atom GAFF force field. All in all, our study clearly demonstrates that a proper choice of the model for computing the thermal conductivity is a non-trivial task: even for such relatively simple compounds as paraffins (n-alkanes), different models perform quite differently, in equilibrium and in non-equilibrium MD simulations, as well as in crystalline and liquid phases.

Original languageEnglish
Article number120639
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Heat and Mass Transfer
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2021


  • Computer modeling
  • Molecular dynamics
  • Paraffins
  • Phase-change materials
  • Thermal conductivity


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