Success in synthesizing functional polyolefins in a controllable way

July 22, 2017

Heteroatom-catalyst interaction facilitates introduction of polar groups

Polyolefins such as polyethylene are important, versatile polymeric materials indispensable to modern society. Since polyolefins do not contain polar units such as heteroatoms, they have low compatibility with polar group–containing polymer materials, pigments and glass fibers, which limits their scope of applicability.

The international collaborative research team of RIKEN CSRS and Dalian University of Technology focused on the unique heteroatom-affinity of rare-earth metals. By designing catalysts and functional olefin molecules that enable specific interactions between rare-earth metals such as scandium and yttrium and heteroatoms such as oxygen and sulfur, the researchers were able to copolymerize heteroatom-containing alpha-olefins with ethylene at the desired ratios to synthesize high molecular weight functional polyolefins with various heteroatoms. The team named this process Heteroatom-assisted Olefin Polymerization (HOP) and carried out computational studies to clarify the mechanisms of actions by which the polymerization proceeds (that is, how the heteroatoms in the alpha-olefin coordinate with the rare-earth metal ions).  

These research results will provide a guide for the design and development of catalysts for copolymerizing polar and nonpolar monomers. The resulting polymer materials have both polyolefin moieties and polar units at the desired ratios, allowing for the environmentally friendly use of polyolefin modifiers in small amounts to achieve the desired effects, as well as open the way to applications for connecting standard polyolefins to various kinds of polar polymer materials to create adhesives for joining different types of materials.


Original article
Science Advances doi:10.1126/sciadv.1701011
C. Wang, G. Luo, M. Nishiura, G. Song, A. Yamamoto, Y. Luo, Z. Hou,
"Heteroatom-assisted olefin polymerization by rare-earth metal catalysts".

Zhaomin Hou; Group Director
Chunxiang Wang; Special Postdoctoral Researcher
Gen Luo; Postdoctoral Researcher
Masayoshi Nishiura; Senior Research Scientist
Advanced Catalysis Research Group