Acid catalyst screening for hydrolysis of post-consumer PET waste and exploration of acidolysis

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Efficient recycling of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastics is a global concern due to the growing volume of plastic waste and its environmental impact. We studied PET hydrolysis and acidolysis processes to recover the PET monomer terephthalic acid (TPA) using various acid catalysts (zeolites, inorganic acids, ionic liquids, carboxylic acids, metal salts, and CO2) below the PET melting point and under identical conditions. TPA yield depended largely on the solution pH for some catalysts, especially aliphatic carboxylic acids, nitric acid, and CO2. However, TPA yields from hydrolysis with metal salts, ionic liquids, sulfuric acid, and aromatic carboxylic acids are also influenced by factors such as solubility limits, oxidation, and anion effects (for metal salts). Under mild hydrolysis conditions at 200 °C for 2 hours, carboxylic acids and metal salts achieved TPA yields > 80%, outperforming nitric acid, which required much more corrosive conditions at pH = 0.7. Zeolites have minimal impact on TPA yields in hydrolysis below the PET melting point. CO2 as a catalyst precursor to carbonic acid did not increase TPA yields significantly. We also explored using acetic acid as the sole reaction medium (acidolysis), which exhibited high TPA yields and a similar environmental energy impact to acid-catalyzed hydrolysis. Propanoic acid showed comparable efficiency, offering promising avenues for chemical recycling of PET.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1964-1974
Number of pages11
JournalGreen Chemistry
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jan 8 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Pollution

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