Accelerating discovery of new materials using frontier tech to transform circularity, production & consumption patterns

IBM is a founding partner of the UN Science Policy Business Forum on the Environment

24 September 2020 – In line with the United Nation’s global call-to-action through its Sustainable Development Goals, IBM researchers are working to speed up the discovery of new materials that will address significant worldwide problems. Specifically, exploring how technology can be used to reinvent the materials design process to find solutions to such as challenges as fostering good health and clean energy as well as bolstering sustainability, climate action and responsible production.

In 2019, IBM predicted that, in the next five years, plastic recycling advancements like VolCat could be adopted around the globe to combat global plastic waste. VolCat uses a benign organic catalyst to selectively digest the most common household plastic – polyethylene terephthalate (PET) – back to its monomer constituents. After purification, the monomer can easily be re-polymerized to form new PET.

IBM Research plans to kick off the next phase of its plan to commercialize the VolCat plastic recycling process by teaming up with an industry partner to design, build and operate a pilot plant to prove the scalability and economics of the VolCat process.

If successful, that work would progress to manufacturing plants all over the world and enable manufacturers to make plastics, fibers or films out of the resulting monomers, without the need to create new plastics from petrochemicals.

This year’s 5 in 5 predictions focus on accelerating the discovery of new materials to enable a more sustainable future.

IBM says that within the next half a decade, new materials or novel uses of existing ones will help address many of the global challenges we face: efficiently capturing carbon dioxide from our overburdened atmosphere, and storing it safely, mitigating climate change; finding more sustainable ways to grow crops to feed our surging population while reducing carbon emissions; rethinking batteries and energy storage before we have to rethink our world; developing better antivirals and more sustainable electronic devices.

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Additional resources

IBM 5 in 5: Radically Accelerating the Process of Discovery will Enable Our Sustainable Future

The Urgency of Science: IBM Research

UNEP-IBM pilot first marine litter digital platform

2019 IBM and the Environment Report [PDF]

Outcome report: Working Group on Big Data and Digital Ecosystems for the Planet [PDF]

Second Scoping Meeting of the Governing Consortium [PDF]


Image: IBM Research’s VolCat plastic recycling process. Credit: IBM

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