Guanidine functionalized porous SiO2 as heterogeneous catalysts for microwave depolymerization of PET and PLA

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Casey, Éadaoin
Breen, Rachel
Pareras, Gerard
Rimola, Albert
Holmes, Justin D.
Collins, Gillian
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Royal Society of Chemistry
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Chemical recycling is an important strategy to tackle the growing global problem of plastic waste pollution. The development of metal-free catalysts for depolymerization of plastics is attractive as it avoids the use of metal salts, which are potentially damaging to the environment. Here we report a metal-free heterogeneous catalyst for the glycolysis of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) and methanolysis of polylactic acid (PLA). The catalysts are synthesized by covalent surface modification of mesoporous silica (SiO2) with guanidine ligands and evaluated under conventional thermal and microwave-assisted heating. A surface bound cyanoguanidine ligand was found to be the best catalyst leading to 100% PET conversion with 80% BHET yield. The nature of the catalyst support material influenced the catalytic performance of the guanidine ligands with porous SiO2 supports outperforming activated carbon in conventional thermal glycolysis, while the opposite trend was observed with microwave assisted glycolysis. Dedicated density functional theory (DFT) computations were performed to simulate the depolymerization processes, obtain the free energy profiles of the reaction mechanisms, and identify the important role of hydrogen bonding in the reaction mechanism.
Chemical recycling , Plastic waste pollution , Metal-free catalysts for depolymerization of plastics , Metal-free heterogeneous catalyst , Glycolysis , Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) , Methanolysis , Polylactic acid (PLA) , Mesoporous silica (SiO2) , Guanidine ligands
Casey, É., Breen, R., Pareras, G., Rimola, A., Holmes, J. D. and Collins, G. (2024) 'Guanidine functionalized porous SiO 2 as heterogeneous catalysts for microwave depolymerization of PET and PLA', RSC Sustainability, 2(4), pp.1040-1051. Available at:
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