Efficient and selective degradation of polyethylenes into liquid fuels and waxes under mild conditions
Polyethylene (PE) is the largest-volume synthetic polymer, and its chemical inertness makes its degradation by lowenergy processes a challenging problem. We report a tandem catalytic cross alkane metathesis method for highly efficient degradation of polyethylenes under mild conditions. With the use of widely available, low-value, short alkanes (for example, petroleum ethers) as cross metathesis partners, different types of polyethylenes with various molecular weights undergo complete conversion into useful liquid fuels and waxes. This method shows excellent selectivity for linear alkane formation, and the degradation product distribution (liquid fuels versus waxes) can be controlled by the catalyst structure and reaction time. In addition, the catalysts are compatible with various polyolefin additives; therefore, common plastic wastes, such as postconsumer polyethylene bottles, bags, and films could be converted into valuable chemical feedstocks without any pretreatment.