Home Artificial Intelligence Q&A: A blueprint for sustainable innovation

Q&A: A blueprint for sustainable innovation

Q&A: A blueprint for sustainable innovation


Q: What role do you see your startup playing within the sustainable materials space?

A: Atacama Biomaterials is a enterprise dedicated to advancing sustainable materials through state-of-the-art technology. With my co-founder Jose Tomas Dominguez, we have now been working on developing our technology since 2019. We initially began the corporate in 2020 under one other name and received Sandbox funds the following yr. In 2021, we went through The Engine’s accelerator, Blueprint, and adjusted our name to Atacama Biomaterials in 2022 through the MITdesignX program. 

This technology we have now developed allows us to create our own data and material library using artificial intelligence and machine learning, and serves as a platform applicable to varied industries horizontally — biofuels, biological drugs, and even mining. Vertically, we produce inexpensive, regionally sourced, and environmentally friendly bio-based polymers and packaging — that’s, naturally compostable plastics as a flagship product, together with AI products.

Q: What motivated you to enterprise into biomaterials and located Atacama?

A: I’m from Chile, a rustic with a phenomenal, wealthy geography and nature where we will see all the issues stemming from industry, waste management, and pollution. We named our company Atacama Biomaterials since the Atacama Desert in Chile — considered one of the places where you may best see the celebs on the planet — is becoming a plastic dump, as many other places on Earth. I care deeply about sustainability, and I actually have an emotional attachment to stop these problems. Considering that manufacturing accounts for 29 percent of worldwide carbon emissions, it is obvious that sustainability has a job in how we define technology and entrepreneurship, in addition to a socio-economic dimension.

After I first got here to MIT, it was to develop software within the Department of Architecture’s Design and Computation Group, with MIT professors Svafa Gronfeldt as co-advisor and Regina Barzilay as committee member. During my PhD, I studied machine-learning methods simulating pedestrian motion to grasp how people move in space. In my work, I might use a number of plastics for 3D printing and I couldn’t stop eager about sustainability and climate change, so I reached out to material science and mechanical engineering professors to look into biopolymers and degradable bio-based materials. That is how I met my co-founder, as we were each working with MIT Professor Neil Gershenfeld. Together, we were a part of considered one of the primary teams on the planet to 3D print wood fibers, which is difficult — it’s slow and expensive — and quickly pivoted to sustainable packaging. 

I then won a fellowship from MCSC [the MIT Climate and Sustainability Consortium], which gave me freedom to explore further, and I finally got a postdoc in MIT chemical engineering, guided by MIT Professor Gregory Rutledge, a polymer physicist. This was unexpected in my profession path. Winning Nucleate Eco Track 2022 and the MITdesignX Innovation Award in 2022 profiled Atacama Biomaterials as considered one of the rising startups in Boston’s biotechnology and climate-tech scene.

Q: What’s your process to develop recent biomaterials?

A: My PhD research, coupled with my background in material development and molecular dynamics, sparked the belief that principles I studied simulating pedestrian motion could also apply to molecular engineering. This connection could appear unconventional, but for me, it was a natural progression. Early in my profession, I developed an intuition for materials, understanding their mechanics and physics.

Using my experience and skills, and leveraging machine learning as a technology jump, I applied the same conceptual framework to simulate the trajectories of molecules and find potential applications in biomaterials. Making that parallel and shift was amazing. It allowed me to optimize a state-of-the-art molecular dynamic software to run twice as fast as more traditional technologies through my algorithm presented on the International Conference of Machine Learning this yr. This may be very necessary, because this sort of simulation often takes per week, so narrowing it all the way down to two days has major implications for scientists and industry, in material science, chemical engineering, computer science and related fields. Such work greatly influenced the inspiration of Atacama Biomaterials, where we developed our own AI to deploy our materials. In an effort to mitigate the environmental impact of producing, Atacama is targeting a 16.7 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions related to the manufacturing technique of its polymers, through the usage of renewable energy. 

One other thing is that I used to be trained as an architect in Chile, and my degree had a design component. I believe design allows me to grasp problems at a really high level, and the way things interconnect. It contributed to developing a holistic vision for Atacama, since it allowed me to leap from one technology or discipline to a different and understand broader applications on a conceptual level. Our design approach also meant that sustainability got here to the middle of our work from the very starting, not only a plus or an added cost.

Q: What was the role of MITdesignX in Atacama’s development?

A: I actually have known Svafa Grönfeldt, MITdesignX’s faculty director, for nearly six years. She was the co-advisor of my PhD, and we had a mentor-mentee relationship. I love the incontrovertible fact that she created an area for people curious about business and entrepreneurship to grow throughout the Department of Architecture. She and Executive Director Gilad Rosenzweig gave us improbable advice, and we received significant support from mentors. For instance, Daniel Tsai helped us with mental property, including a vital patent for Atacama. And we’re still in contact with the remainder of the cohort. I actually like this “design your organization” approach, which I find quite unique, since it gives us the chance to reflect on who we wish to be as designers, technologists, and entrepreneurs. Studying user insights also allowed us to grasp the broad applicability of our research, and align our vision with market demands, ultimately shaping Atacama into an organization with a holistic perspective on sustainable material development.

Q: How does Atacama approach scaling, and what are the immediate next steps for the corporate?

A: After I take into consideration accomplishing our vision, I feel really inspired by my 3-year-old daughter. I need her to experience a world with trees and wildlife when she’s 100 years old, and I hope Atacama will contribute to such a future.

Going back to the designer’s perspective, we designed the entire process holistically, from feedstock to material development, incorporating AI and advanced manufacturing. Having proved that there’s a demand for the materials we’re developing, and having tested our products, manufacturing process, and technology in critical environments, we are actually able to scale. Our level of technology-readiness is comparable to the one utilized by NASA (level 4).

We now have proof of concept: a biodegradable and recyclable packaging material which is cost- and energy-efficient as a clean energy enabler in large-scale manufacturing. We now have received pre-seed funding, and are sustainably scaling by making the most of available resources all over the world, like repurposing machinery from the paper industry. As presented within the MIT Industrial Liaison and STEX Program’s recent Sustainability Conference, unlike our competitors, we have now cost-parity with current packaging materials, in addition to low-energy processes. And we also proved the demand for our products, which was a very important milestone. Our next steps involve strategically expanding our manufacturing capabilities and research facilities and we’re currently evaluating constructing a factory in Chile and establishing an R&D lab plus a producing plant within the U.S.


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