Upcycling Single-Use Polyethylene into High-Quality Liquid Products
Our civilization relies on synthetic polymers for all aspects of modern life; yet, inefficient recycling and extremely slow environmental degradation of plastics are causing increasing concern about their widespread use. After a single use, many of these materials are currently treated as waste, underutilizing their inherent chemical and energy value. In this study, energy-rich polyethylene (PE) macromolecules are catalytically transformed into value-added products by hydrogenolysis using well-dispersed Pt nanoparticles (NPs) supported on SrTiO3 perovskite nanocuboids by atomic layer deposition. Pt/SrTiO3 completely converts PE (Mn = 8000–158,000 Da) or a single-use plastic bag (Mn = 31,000 Da) into high-quality liquid products, such as lubricants and waxes, characterized by a narrow distribution of oligomeric chains, at 170 psi H2 and 300 °C under solvent-free conditions for reaction durations up to 96 h. The binding of PE onto the catalyst surface contributes to the number averaged molecular weight (Mn) and the narrow polydispersity (Đ) of the final liquid product. Solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance of 13C-enriched PE adsorption studies and density functional theory computations suggest that PE adsorption is more favorable on Pt sites than that on the SrTiO3 support. Smaller Pt NPs with higher concentrations of undercoordinated Pt sites over-hydrogenolyzed PE to undesired light hydrocarbons.