357. Efficient Depolymerization of Glass Fiber Reinforced PET Composites

Jose Jonathan Rubio Arias and Wim Thielemans; Polymers; (2022); DOI: 10.3390/polym14235171 (open access)

The transition to an eco-friendly circular materials system for garbage collected after use from end-users is a serious matter of concern for current society. One important tool in this challenge to achieve a truly circular economy is the chemical recycling of polymers. It has previously been demonstrated that chemical recycling is a feasible alternative to reach carbon circularity, which promotes the maximization of carbon recovery through all possible means. Among the advantages of chemical recycling, one must highlight its ability to selectively attack one or several target functionalities inside a complex mixed stream of polymers to obtain pure monomers, which can then be used to prepare virgin-like polymers as a final product. In previous works from our group, we used a microwave-heated potassium hydroxide in methanol (KMH) system to instantaneously depolymerize PET bottles. The KMH system was also effective for polycarbonate (PC), and intimately mixed PET/PC blends. In the present study, glass fiber reinforced (GFR) PET composites were submitted to depolymerization using the KMH system, and it was verified that more strict conditions were required for full depolymerization of GFR pellets than for pure PET pellets. Evidence of the reorganization of PET chains leading to increased crystallinity were obtained through DSC and WAXD. Surface adhesion of PET and crystallization onto glass fibers led to a different crystalline phase that seems to be more protected against the depolymerization solution, thus increasing the time required for full depolymerization when compared to unreinforced PET. An activation energy of 123 kJ/mol was estimated, in the same range of pristine PET pellets and PET bottles. The optimization of depolymerization conditions permitted 100% depolymerization within 5 min of reaction at 120 °C using 30 mL of KMH solution per g of composite. The green chemistry metrics reflect that our system is more efficient than most of the depolymerization systems found in the literature. The optimal depolymerization conditions here reported for GFR PET composites represent another step towards a total recycling system that includes not only pure polymers but also composites, commonly present in daily life.