Catalytic oxidation of polystyrene to aromatic oxygenates over a graphitic carbon nitride catalyst

Published in Chemistry
Catalytic oxidation of polystyrene to aromatic oxygenates over a graphitic carbon nitride catalyst

Share this post

Choose a social network to share with, or copy the shortened URL to share elsewhere

This is a representation of how your post may appear on social media. The actual post will vary between social networks

Plastic is an indispensable material with a global production reaching nearly 400 million tons in 20201. In the past, the post-consumer plastics were considered as garbage. It is estimated that more than 80% of waste plastics are directly discarded, landfilled or incinerated after use, without effective recycling, resulting in serious environmental pollution and resource waste2–4. Polystyrene is a kind of common synthetic plastic, which is often used to make various kinds of packaging, disposable tableware, and fillers, but its recycling rate is very low.

The traditional chemical recovery method of polystyrene is to obtain mixed aromatics by catalytic pyrolysis at a temperature above 300 °C. Recently,  new processes of converting polystyrene into benzoic acid using a homogeneous catalyst were reported5-8.

In our paper, we reported a heterogeneous g-C3Ncatalyzed oxidation of polystyrene to aromatic oxygenates. The catalytic transformation was performed at 150 ℃ in acetonitile solvent with visible light irradation. Highly efficient conversion of polystyrene to aromatic oxygenates such as benzoic acid was achieved (> 90% conversion, > 60% selectivity of aromatic oxygenates).

This study have shown that there is an induction period in the catalytic oxidation reaction. At this time, random partial oxidation first occurs on polystyrene, and active groups such as hydroxyl and carbonyl are introduced into its backbone, while the formation rate of small molecular products is slow. In the further progress of the reaction, the activated C-C bond adjacent to the oxygen-containing group is cleaved, and finally small molecular products such as benzaldehyde, acetophenone, and benzoic acid are obtained, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. Proposed reaction mechanism of g-C3N4 catalyzed photooxidation of polystyrene.

On the basis of a preliminary understanding of the reaction mechanism, we designed a liquid-phase circulating reaction system to separate the reaction products at an appropriate stage of reaction to avoid excessive oxidation side reactions, and achieved the conversion of 0.5 g of commercial polystyrene foam pellets to 0.24 g of seperated pure benzoic acid, as shown in Figure 2. In addition, the solubility and catalytic performance of polystyrene plastics can be further improved by certain oxidative pretreatment. By changing the weight hourly space velocity (WHSV) of the polystyrene solution in the liquid-phase circulating reaction system, the liquid-phase product selection can also be altered (50% benzaldehyde or 74% benzoic acid).

Figure 2. Conversion of polystyrene foam pellets to pure benzoic acid.

For more information, please see our recent publication in Nature Communications


  1. EuropePlastics. Plastics - the Facts 2021. An analysis of European plastics production, demand andwaste data., (2021).
  2. MacLeod, M., Arp Hans Peter, H., Tekman Mine, B. & Jahnke, A. The global threat from plastic pollution. Science 373, 61–65 (2021).
  3. Jambeck Jenna, R. et al. Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768–771 (2015).
  4. Nicholson, S. R., Rorrer, N. A., Carpenter, A. C. & Beckham, G. T. Manufacturing energy and greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastics consumption. Joule 5, 673–686 (2021).
  5. Oh, S. & Stache, E. E. Chemical Upcycling of Commercial Polystyrene via Catalyst-Controlled Photooxidation. J. Am. Chem. Soc. 144, 5745–5749 (2022).
  6. Huang, Z. et al. Chemical Recycling of Polystyrene to Valuable Chemicals via Selective Acid-Catalyzed Aerobic Oxidation under Visible Light. J. Am. Chem. Soc144, 6532–6542(2022).
  7. Zhang,G., Zhang, Z. & Zeng, R. Photoinduced FeCl3-Catalyzed Alkyl Aromatics Oxidation toward Degradation of Polystyrene at Room Temperature. Chin. J. Chem. 39, 3225–3230 (2021).
  8. Wang, M., Wen, J., Huang, Y. & Hu, P. Selective Degradation of Styrene-Related Plastics Catalyzed by Iron under Visible Light. ChemSusChem 14, 5049–5056 (2021).

Please sign in or register for FREE

If you are a registered user on Research Communities by Springer Nature, please sign in

Subscribe to the Topic

Physical Sciences > Chemistry

Related Collections

With collections, you can get published faster and increase your visibility.

Materials and devices for separation, sensing, and protection

In this Collection, the editors of Nature Communications and Communications Materials welcome the submission of primary research articles that highlight the development and application of functional materials in the areas of separation, sensing, and protection.

Publishing Model: Open Access

Deadline: Jun 30, 2024

Applied Sciences

This collection highlights research and commentary in applied science. The range of topics is large, spanning all scientific disciplines, with the unifying factor being the goal to turn scientific knowledge into positive benefits for society.

Publishing Model: Open Access

Deadline: Ongoing