Nat Commun. 2023 Aug 10;14(1):4847. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-39362-z.
Post-consumer plastic waste in the environment has driven the scientific community to develop deconstruction methods that yield valued substances from these synthetic macromolecules. Electrocatalysis is a well-established method for achieving challenging transformations in small molecule synthesis. Here we present the first electro-chemical depolymerization of polyoxymethylene-a highly crystalline engineering thermoplastic (Delrin®)-into its repolymerizable monomer, formaldehyde/1,3,5-trioxane, under ambient conditions. We investigate this electrochemical deconstruction by employing solvent screening, cyclic voltammetry, divided cell studies, electrolysis with redox mediators, small molecule model studies, and control experiments. Our findings determine that the reaction proceeds via a heterogeneous electro-mediated acid depolymerization mechanism. The bifunctional role of the co-solvent 1,1,1,3,3,3-hexafluoro-2-propanol (HFIP) is also revealed. This study demonstrates the potential of electromediated depolymerization serving as an important role in sustainable chemistry by merging the concepts of renewable energy and circular plastic economy.