PI: Gerald Wang, Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Co-PI: Stefanie Sydlik, Assistant Professor, Chemistry
Agricultural plastic films are a remarkable opportunity to innovate better product reuse and circular economy outcomes. Over 7 billion kilograms of this material are used every year, and the vast majority of that total is eventually incinerated or landfilled. This CIT-MCS collaboration aims to improve the sustainability of these films using a combination of polymer chemistry and ML/AI-enhanced computational science. In particular, we target the development of a novel polyethylene-based polymer composite with functionalized graphene-oxide inclusions that features an aqueous degradation pathway. The inclusions will be designed so that the degradation byproducts will sustainably enhance soil health by restoring soil carbon and contributing fertilizing nutrients, without presenting any ecological toxicity risks.
The composite materials we engineer will have mechanical, thermal, and fluidpermeability properties that make them suitable for agricultural deployment. This work will be driven by a virtuous cycle of learning that spans experimental and computational research, including polymer synthesis, materials characterization, environmental fate and toxicity testing, and a variety of molecular and continuum simulation techniques (density-functional theory, molecular dynamics, and finite elements). Our efforts will be enhanced through industrial partnerships with NVIDIA Corporation and Materials Design, Inc.