High Molar Mass Polycarbonates as Closed-Loop Recyclable Thermoplastics

14 March 2024

Journal of the American Chemical Society Article

Gloria Rosetto, Fernando Vidal, Thomas M. McGuire, Ryan W. F. Kerr, and Charlotte K. Williams Journal of the American Chemical Society Article ASAP DOI: 10.1021/jacs.3c14170

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Using carbon dioxide (CO2) to make recyclable thermoplastics could reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with polymer manufacturing. CO2/cyclic epoxide ring-opening copolymerization (ROCOP) allows for >30 wt % of the polycarbonate to derive from CO2; so far, the field has largely focused on oligocarbonates. In contrast, efficient catalysts for high molar mass polycarbonates are underinvestigated, and the resulting thermoplastic structure–property relationships, processing, and recycling need to be elucidated. This work describes a new organometallic Mg(II)Co(II) catalyst that combines high productivity, low loading tolerance, and the highest polymerization control to yield polycarbonates with number average molecular weight (Mn) values from 4 to 130 kg mol–1, with narrow, monomodal distributions. It is used in the ROCOP of CO2 with bicyclic epoxides to produce a series of samples, each with Mn > 100 kg mol–1, of poly(cyclohexene carbonate) (PCHC), poly(vinyl-cyclohexene carbonate) (PvCHC), poly(ethyl-cyclohexene carbonate) (PeCHC, by hydrogenation of PvCHC), and poly(cyclopentene carbonate) (PCPC). All these materials are amorphous thermoplastics, with high glass transition temperatures (85 < Tg < 126 °C, by differential scanning calorimetry) and high thermal stability (Td > 260 °C). The cyclic ring substituents mediate the materials’ chain entanglements, viscosity, and glass transition temperatures. Specifically, PCPC was found to have 10× lower entanglement molecular weight (Me)n and 100× lower zero-shear viscosity compared to those of PCHC, showing potential as a future thermoplastic. All these high molecular weight polymers are fully recyclable, either by reprocessing or by using the Mg(II)Co(II) catalyst for highly selective depolymerizations to epoxides and CO2. PCPC shows the fastest depolymerization rates, achieving an activity of 2500 h–1 and >99% selectivity for cyclopentene oxide and CO2.