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December 1, 2023

NREL AI Tool Predicts How to Achieve Polymer Properties with Biomass

Lynn L. Bergeson Carla N. Hutton

The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) announced on November 27, 2023, that a machine learning tool developed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), with support from BETO, makes it easier for material scientists to “mak[e] polymers more sustainable and higher performing — especially with the reliance on petrochemicals for making plastics.” According to BETO, using artificial intelligence (AI), PolyID: Polymer Inverse Design™ “can predict material properties based on molecular structure,” allowing PolyID “to screen millions of possible polymer designs to create a short list of candidates for any given application.” NREL’s November 2, 2023, news item includes a case study that describes how NREL scientists used PolyID to screen rapidly more than 15,000 plant-based polymers for biodegradable alternatives to food packaging films. NREL’s team prioritized the ability to withstand high temperatures and to create a strong vapor seal, while adding other desirable attributes, including biodegradability and a lower greenhouse gas footprint. NREL states that PolyID “generated a short list of seven polymer designs that could be made from biomass.” NREL’s team confirmed PolyID’s predictions, finding that “[n]ot only would all seven polymers withstand high temperatures, but they could also do so while lowering net greenhouse gas emissions and keeping food fresh for longer periods of time.” More information on PolyID is available in an October 19, 2023, Macromolecules article entitled “PolyID: Artificial Intelligence for Discovering Performance-Advantaged and Sustainable Polymers.”