Catalytic Consequences of Hierarchical Pore Architectures within MFI and FAU Zeolites for Polyethylene Conversion

Jun Zhi Tan, Maaso Ortega, Sophia A. Miller, Cole W. Hullfish, Hojoon Kim, Sungmin Kim, Wenda Hu, Jian Zhi Hu, Johannes A. Lercher, Bruce E. Koel, Michele L. Sarazen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The benefits of hierarchical zeolites for the conversion of bulky molecules like polymeric waste have been reported in the literature; however, the impact of mesopore sizes and connectivities on rates, product selectivities, and catalyst deactivation in the context of plastic upcycling has not been systematically probed. Here, we synthesized a suite of hierarchical MFI and FAU zeolites via desilication under varying conditions for metal-free polyethylene conversion reactions under batch and flow conditions (473-523 K). Polyethylene (solid) conversion rates (normalized by Bro̷nsted acid site density) were higher on hierarchical than parent microporous MFI regardless of mesopore connectivities, i.e., open or constricted, suggesting that the incorporation of mesopores facilitates diffusion of intermediate products to access medium-pore protons for successive scission events. Furthermore, higher branched:linear gaseous product ratios were produced on hierarchical than parent MFI, since mesopores allow for egress of bulkier molecules without undergoing further secondary events, e.g., isomerization back to linear alkanes/alkenes or beta scission. Solid conversion rates on hierarchical FAU synthesized via desilication with cetyltrimethylammonium bromide (CTABr), however, were not higher than parent FAU, likely because the presence of CTABr facilitates recrystallization of leached species to form composites (hierarchical FAU and ordered mesoporous materials) with more isolated mesopores. The stagnation in rates, despite increased mesopore volumes (>0.22 cm3 g-1), highlights the importance of confinement effects provided by micropores for cleaving C-C bonds at modest reaction conditions. In situ 1H MAS NMR performed on polyethylene with MFI zeolite show that PE isomerizes (and potentially deconstructs) at temperatures near 450 K, highlighting the role of Bro̷nsted acid sites in activating C-C bonds under mild reaction conditions. Catalyst recyclability studies showed that all catalysts undergo deactivation during plastic upcycling reactions, but to varying extents. Overall, hierarchical materials have better catalyst stability than parent materials, although the differences in stability between hierarchical and parent FAU are smaller than those for MFI. Taken together, these findings demonstrate how rates, selectivities, and catalyst deactivation from plastic upcycling reactions can be controlled via fine-tuning the identity and connectivity of mesopores.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7536-7552
Number of pages17
JournalACS Catalysis
Issue number10
StatePublished - May 17 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Catalysis
  • General Chemistry


  • catalyst deactivation
  • hierarchical zeolites
  • polyolefin conversion
  • postsynthetic modification
  • solid acid catalysis


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