Hundreds of millions of tons of plastic are produced worldwide each year, and the majority of these materials are discarded after a single use. Most end up in landfills or the environment. Because of technical challenges, even the plastic that does get recycled typically generates materials that are of lower quality and value than the original polymer. Kenneth Poeppelmeier, Aaron Sadow, Massimiliano Delferro and colleagues wanted to develop a catalyst that could be used to selectively upcycle polyethylene into high-quality, value-added products.
The researchers deposited platinum nanoparticles onto a strontium titanate support. At moderate pressure and temperature, this catalyst cleaved carbon-carbon bonds in polyethylene to produce high-quality liquid hydrocarbons. These liquids could be used as motor oil, lubricants or waxes, or further processed to make ingredients for detergents and cosmetics. The new catalyst preferentially bound and cleaved longer hydrocarbon chains, so that the products were all of a similar, intermediate size. In contrast, a commercially available catalyst generated lower-quality products with a broader size range and many short hydrocarbons, limiting the products’ usefulness.
The authors acknowledge funding from the Catalysis Science Program, Division of Chemical Sciences, Geosciences and Biosciences, Office of Basic Energy Sciences at the U.S. Department of Energy.
The paper will be available as an ACS AuthorChoice article on October 23 at 8 a.m. Eastern time here: http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acscentsci.9b00722
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