Scientists proposed electrochemical reforming of waste plastic PET to prepare glycolic acid

Converting waste PET plastics into high value-added chemical products through chemical means is one of the effective ways to solve the increasingly serious plastic pollution and achieve carbon neutrality. Electrochemical oxidation offers a sustainable solution to convert waste PET-derived ethylene glycol into high-value chemicals under mild conditions, while producing hydrogen at the cathode. However, ethylene glycol oxidation still faces problems such as complex reaction process, poor product selectivity, and easy inactivation of catalysts. 

Recently, the team of researcher Chen Yong from the Photochemical Conversion and Synthesis Center of the Institute of Physics and Chemistry, Chinese Academy of Sciences designed and synthesized a Pd-Ni(OH)2 composite electrocatalyst, which can selectively oxidize ethylene glycol to glycolic acid through the synergy of Pd and Ni double sites, and inhibit the poisoning and inactivation of the catalyst by carbonyl species during the reaction. At a glycol conversion of 93.2%, the selectivity of glycolic acid is as high as 91.6%. Even at industrial-grade current densities (600 mA·cm-1), the catalyst has high Faraday efficiency and selectivity (> 85%). In addition, after 200 hours of continuous operation in the flow electrolytic cell, the performance of the catalyst remains stable, which is better than all currently reported palladium glycol oxidation catalysts.

Schematic diagram of electrochemical oxidation of PET-derived ethylene glycol to glycolic acid

The relevant research results were published in the German applied chemistry Angew. In the journal Chem. Int. Ed, the first author of the article is Dr. Liu Fulai, Special Research Assistant of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Studies. The research work has been supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the Chinese Academy of Sciences-HKU Joint Laboratory Fund for Advanced Materials, and the China Postdoctoral Science Foundation. (Source: Institute of Physical and Chemical Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences) 

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