Nat Commun. 2023 Jan 14;14(1):225. doi: 10.1038/s41467-023-35925-2.
Polymers with low ceiling temperatures (Tc) are highly desirable as they can depolymerize under mild conditions, but they typically suffer from demanding synthetic conditions and poor stability. We envision that this challenge can be addressed by developing high-Tc polymers that can be converted into low-Tc polymers on demand. Here, we demonstrate the mechanochemical generation of a low-Tc polymer, poly(2,5-dihydrofuran) (PDHF), from an unsaturated polyether that contains cyclobutane-fused THF in each repeat unit. Upon mechanically induced cycloreversion of cyclobutane, each repeat unit generates three repeat units of PDHF. The resulting PDHF completely depolymerizes into 2,5-dihydrofuran in the presence of a ruthenium catalyst. The mechanochemical generation of the otherwise difficult-to-synthesize PDHF highlights the power of polymer mechanochemistry in accessing elusive structures. The concept of mechanochemically regulating the Tc of polymers can be applied to develop next-generation sustainable plastics.