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Advancements in the chemical recyclability of acrylic polymers through investigation of monomer design


Depolymerization is a key avenue of state-of-the-art recycling of polymeric materials. Although many polymers have been investigated for their ability to depolymerize, a subset of polymers has been widely left out of the conversation, polyolefins, or polymers containing C-C bonds in the polymer main-chain. Acrylic polymers are an important class of polyolefins used throughout the world in a variety of applications. One of the key drawbacks of the polymer, however, is their unfavorable depolymerization conditions, requiring high temperatures in expensive reactors. Although much work has been performed on the depolymerization of the most widely used acrylic polymer, poly(methyl methacrylate) (PMMA), there have been few reports on trying to improve upon the recycling methods, such as decreasing depolymerization temperature or gaining control over the depolymerization mechanism. In this work, key mechanistic steps of acrylic polymer depolymerization are investigated to gain fundamental understanding on the limitations faced during depolymerization and try to improve upon them. When poly(α-methylene-γ-butyrolactone) (PMBL) and poly(α-methylene-γ-methyl-γ-butyrolactone) (PMMBL) were investigated, the suppression of side reactions that occurred with PMMA depolymerization were identified, attributed to the pendant lactone tethering radical species together. Employing this tethering effect, the design of new polymers with pendant lactones and lower equilibrium polymerization temperatures (ceiling temperature or TC), was carried out, overall decreasing depolymerization temperatures and improving polymer recyclability. Finally, these new polymers were incorporated into the design of copolymers with PMMA and PMMBL in order to exploit the new polymers' depolymerizability without hindering thermomechanical properties. Overall, this work has shed light onto the importance of polyolefin design in, not just thermomechanical properties, but also polymerization and depolymerization behavior which will benefit the continued development of recyclable-by-design polymers.


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Embargo expires: 05/20/2025.


ceiling temperature
poly(methyl methacrylate)


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