Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) have emerged as a promising class of biosynthesizable, biocompatible, and biodegradable polymers to replace petroleum-based plastics for addressing the global plastic pollution problem. Although PHAs offer a wide range of chemical diversity, the structure–property relationships in this class of polymers remain poorly established. In particular, the available experimental data on the mechanical properties is scarce. In this contribution, we have used molecular dynamics simulations employing a recently developed forcefield to predict chemical trends in mechanical properties of PHAs. Specifically, we make predictions for Young’s modulus, and yield stress for a wide range of PHAs that exhibit varying lengths of backbone and side chains as well as different side chain functional groups. Deformation simulations were performed at six different strain rates and six different temperatures to elucidate their influence on the mechanical properties. Our results indicate that Young’s modulus and yield stress decrease systematically with increase in the number of carbon atoms in the side chain as well as in the polymer backbone. In addition, we find that the mechanical properties were strongly correlated with the chemical nature of the functional group. The functional groups that enhance the interchain interactions lead to an enhancement in both the Young’s modulus and yield stress. Finally, we applied the developed methodology to study composition-dependence of the mechanical properties for a selected set of binary and ternary copolymers. Overall, our work not only provides insights into rational design rules for tailoring mechanical properties in PHAs, but also opens up avenues for future high throughput atomistic simulation studies geared towards identifying functional PHA polymer candidates for targeted applications.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited