Bifunctional tandem catalytic upcycling of polyethylene to surfactant-range alkylaromatics

Jiakai Sun, Yu Hsuan Lee, Ryan D. Yappert, Anne M. LaPointe, Geoffrey W. Coates, Baron Peters, Mahdi M. Abu-Omar, Susannah L. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Catalytic conversion of waste polyolefins to value-added alkylaromatics could contribute to carbon recycling. Compared with tandem hydrogenolysis/aromatization of polyethylene (PE) catalyzed by Pt/γ-Al2O3 at 280°C, both a 5-fold enhancement in the rate of C–C bond scission and a doubling of the molar yield of alkylaromatics were achieved using a more acidic Pt/F-Al2O3 catalyst instead. Bifunctional (metal/acid) catalysts also generate alkylaromatic products with lower average carbon numbers (ca. C20), similar to conventional anionic surfactants. Because physical mixtures of weakly acidic Pt/γ-Al2O3 or non-acidic Pt/SiO2 with strongly Brønsted acidic Cl-Al2O3 or F-Al2O3 are also effective, the tandem reaction does not require nanoscale intimacy between metal and acid active sites. Kinetic studies using triacontane (norm-C30H62) as a model for PE show that the Pt-catalyzed dehydrogenation/hydrogenation reactions are quasi-equilibrated, while the acid-catalyzed C–C bond scission and skeletal transformations (isomerization and cyclization) determine the overall rates of depolymerization and aromatic formation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2318-2336
Number of pages19
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 10 2023


  • SDG11: Sustainable cities and communities
  • SDG12: Responsible consumption and production
  • SDG9: Industry, innovation, and infrastructure
  • aromatization
  • bifunctional catalyst
  • depolymerization
  • nanoscale reaction coupling
  • plastic waste
  • polyethylene upcycling
  • tandem reaction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Materials Chemistry


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