Chemical Upcycling of Commercial Polystyrene via Catalyst-Controlled Photooxidation

Sewon Oh, Erin E. Stache

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


Chemical upcycling of polystyrene into targeted small molecules is desirable to reduce plastic pollution. Herein, we report the upcycling of polystyrene to benzoyl products, primarily benzoic acid, using a catalyst-controlled photooxidative degradation method. FeCl3undergoes a homolytic cleavage upon irradiation with white light to generate a chlorine radical, abstracting an electron-rich hydrogen atom on the polymer backbone. Under the oxygen-rich environment, high MW polystyrene (>90 kg/mol) degrades down to <1 kg/mol and produces up to 23 mol % benzoyl products. A series of mechanistic studies showed that chlorine radicals promoted the degradation via hydrogen-atom abstraction. Commercial polystyrene degrades efficiently in our method, showing the compatibility of our system with polymer fillers. Finally, we demonstrated the potential of scaling up our approach in a photoflow process to convert gram quantities of PS to benzoic acid.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5745-5749
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of the American Chemical Society
Issue number13
StatePublished - Apr 6 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Biochemistry
  • Catalysis
  • Colloid and Surface Chemistry


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