51. Chemical Recycling of Thiol Epoxy Thermosets via Light-Driven C–C Bond Cleavage

Suong T. Nguyen, Lydia R. Fries, James H. Cox, Yuting Ma, Brett P. Fors, and Robert R. Knowles

J. Am. Chem. Soc. 2022145 11151–11160. DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c00958


ABSTRACT: Epoxy thermosets are high-volume materials that play a central role in a wide range of engineering applications; however, technologies to recycle these polymers remain rare. Here, we present a catalytic, light-driven method that enables chemical recycling of industrially relevant thiol epoxy thermosets to their original monomer at ambient temperature. This strategy relies on the proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) activation of hydroxy groups within the polymer network to generate key alkoxy radicals that promote the fragmentation of the polymer through C–C bond β-scission. The method fully depolymerizes insoluble thiol epoxy thermosets into well-defined mixtures of small-molecule products, which can collectively be converted into the original monomer via a one-step dealkylation process. Notably, this process is selective and efficient even in the presence of other commodity plastics and additives commonly found in commercial applications. These results constitute an important step toward making epoxy thermosets recyclable and more generally exemplify the potential of PCET to offer a more sustainable end-of-life for a diverse array of commercial plastics.