Zr(IV) Catalyst for the Ring-Opening Copolymerization of Anhydrides (A) with Epoxides (B), Oxetane (B), and Tetrahydrofurans (C) to Make ABB- and/or ABC-Poly(ester-alt-ethers)

07 April 2022

Journal of the American Chemical Society

Ryan W. F. Kerr & Charlotte K. Williams

View Journal Article / Working Paper

Poly(ester-alt-ethers) can combine beneficial ether linkage flexibility and polarity with ester linkage hydrolysability, furnishing fully degradable polymers. Despite their promising properties, this class of polymers remains underexplored, in part due to difficulties in polymer synthesis. Here, a catalyzed copolymerization using commercially available monomers, butylene oxide (BO)/oxetane (OX), tetrahydrofuran (THF), and phthalic anhydride (PA), accesses a series of well-defined poly(ester-alt-ethers). A Zr(IV) catalyst is reported that yields polymer repeat units comprising a ring-opened PA (A), followed by two ring-opened cyclic ethers (B/C) (−ABB– or −ABC−). It operates with high polymerization control, good rate, and successfully enchains epoxides, oxetane, and/or tetrahydrofurans, providing a straightforward means to moderate the distance between ester linkages. Kinetic analysis of PA/BO copolymerization, with/without THF, reveals an overall second-order rate law: first order in both catalyst and butylene oxide concentrations but zero order in phthalic anhydride and, where it is present, zero order in THF. Poly(ester-alt-ethers) have lower glass-transition temperatures (−16 °C < Tg < 12 °C) than the analogous alternating polyesters, consistent with the greater backbone flexibility. They also show faster ester hydrolysis rates compared with the analogous AB polymers. The Zr(IV) catalyst furnishes poly(ester-alt-ethers) from a range of commercially available epoxides and anhydride; it presents a straightforward method to moderate degradable polymers’ properties.