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Markovian master equations for quantum thermal machines : Local versus global approach

  • Patrick P. Hofer
  • Martí Perarnau-Llobet
  • L. David M. Miranda
  • Géraldine Haack
  • Ralph Silva
  • Jonatan Bohr Brask
  • Nicolas Brunner
Publishing year: 2017-12-01
Language: English
Publication/Series: New Journal of Physics
Volume: 19
Issue: 12
Document type: Journal article
Publisher: IOP Publishing

Abstract english

The study of quantum thermal machines, and more generally of open quantum systems, often relies on master equations. Two approaches are mainly followed. On the one hand, there is the widely used, but often criticized, local approach, where machine sub-systems locally couple to thermal baths. On the other hand, in the more established global approach, thermal baths couple to global degrees of freedom of the machine. There has been debate as to which of these two conceptually different approaches should be used in situations out of thermal equilibrium. Here we compare the local and global approaches against an exact solution for a particular class of thermal machines. We consider thermodynamically relevant observables, such as heat currents, as well as the quantum state of the machine. Our results show that the use of a local master equation is generally well justified. In particular, for weak inter-system coupling, the local approach agrees with the exact solution, whereas the global approach fails for non-equilibrium situations. For intermediate coupling, the local and the global approach both agree with the exact solution and for strong coupling, the global approach is preferable. These results are backed by detailed derivations of the regimes of validity for the respective approaches.


  • exact numerics
  • heat engine
  • Markovian master equations
  • quantum thermodynamics


  • ISSN: 1367-2630
Portrait of Patrick Potts
E-mail: patrick [dot] potts [at] teorfys [dot] lu [dot] se

Postdoctoral fellow

Mathematical Physics


Postdoctoral fellow