Molecular dynamics simulations for glass transition temperature predictions of polyhydroxyalkanoate biopolymers

KK Bejagam and CN Iverson and BL Marrone and G Pilania, PHYSICAL CHEMISTRY CHEMICAL PHYSICS, 22, 17880-17889 (2020).

DOI: 10.1039/d0cp03163a

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) represent an emerging class of biosynthetic and biodegradable polyesters that exhibit considerable potential to replace petroleum-based plastics towards a sustainable future. Despite the promise, general structure-property mappings within this class of polymers remain largely unexplored. An efficient exploration of this vast chemical space calls for the development and validation of predictive methods for accurate estimation of a diverse range of properties for PHA-based polymers. Towards this aim, here we present and validate the results of our molecular dynamics (MD) simulation based approach aimed at predicting glass transition temperatures (T-g) of PHA- based polymers. Since generally available and widely used polymer forcefields exhibit a relatively poor performance forT(g)predictions, we have developed a new forcefield by modifying the polymer consistent force field (PCFF)viarefining a selected set of torsion potentials of the polymer backbone using accurate density functional theory (DFT) computations. After carefully assessing the dependence of critical simulation parameters, such as, polymer chain length, number of polymer chains, supercell size, and thermal quenching rate used in the simulation, the applicability and transferability of the modified PCFF (mPCFF) is demonstrated by directly comparing the computedT(g)predictions of various polymers with different chemistries, polymer side chain lengths and functional groups forming the polymer side chains against the respective experimentally measured values. Furthermore, the transport properties such as self-diffusion coefficient and viscosity are computationally determined and their well-known correlation with the target properties is demonstrated. Lastly, we have employed the developed approach to predictT(g)values for a number of yet-to-be-synthesized PHA-based polymers with a diverse set of functional groups in the polymer side chains. The results are further rationalized by correlating the predictedT(g)values with the inter-chain H-bond formation tendencies of the different side chain functional groups. This work represents an important first step towards computationally guided design of PHA-based functional polymers and opens up new directions for a systematic investigation of composition- and configuration-dependent structure-property relationships in more complex binary and ternary copolymer systems.

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