End-of-life upcycling of polyurethanes using a room temperature, mechanism-based degradation

Ephraim G. Morado, Mara L. Paterson, Douglas G. Ivanoff, Hsuan Chin Wang, Alayna Johnson, Darius Daniels, Aoon Rizvi, Nancy R. Sottos, Steven C. Zimmerman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A major challenge in developing recyclable polymeric materials is the inherent conflict between the properties required during and after their life span. In particular, materials must be strong and durable when in use, but undergo complete and rapid degradation, ideally under mild conditions, as they approach the end of their life span. We report a mechanism for degrading polymers called cyclization-triggered chain cleavage (CATCH cleavage) that achieves this duality. CATCH cleavage features a simple glycerol-based acyclic acetal unit as a kinetic and thermodynamic trap for gated chain shattering. Thus, an organic acid induces transient chain breaks with oxocarbenium ion formation and subsequent intramolecular cyclization to fully depolymerize the polymer backbone at room temperature. With minimal chemical modification, the resulting degradation products from a polyurethane elastomer can be repurposed into strong adhesives and photochromic coatings, demonstrating the potential for upcycling. The CATCH cleavage strategy for low-energy input breakdown and subsequent upcycling may be generalizable to a broader range of synthetic polymers and their end-of-life waste streams. [Figure not available: see fulltext.].

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)569-577
Number of pages9
JournalNature Chemistry
Issue number4
StateAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Chemistry
  • General Chemical Engineering


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