Ab Initio and Experimental Study on Thermally Degradable Polycarbonates:  The Effect of Substituents on the Reaction Rates

V. Van Speybroeck, M. Waroquier, Y. Martele, E. Schacht
JACS (Journal of the American Chemical Society)
123 (43), 10650–10657


Thermal elimination reactions on polycarbonates are investigated from both theoretical and experimental points of view, to obtain insight into the microscopic aspects that influence the reaction mechanism and rates. In particular, attention is focused on the influence of the type of substituents in the polymer chain on the reaction rates. Ab initio density functional theory calculations are performed on a series of model compound systems for the polycarbonates under study, in particular carbonates differing by the groups attached at the α and β carbon atoms. Reactants, products, and transition states are optimized at the B3LYP/6-311g** level of theory. The structures of the activated complex give insight into the mechanistic details of this type of Ei elimination reactions. The Cα−O bond dissociates before the Cβ−H bond, developing some carbocation character in the transition state on the Cα atom. The kinematics of the thermal decomposition reactions have been studied by means of transition state theory by construction of the microscopic partition functions. It turns out that the rates of the Ei elimination reactions are increased by the presence of those substituents on the Cα and Cβ carbon atoms which are stabilizing the carbocation character in the transition state. In a second part, degradation temperatures have been experimentally measured for some polycarbonates through thermogravimetric analysis. It is investigated whether the relative rates of the model compound carbonate systems are representative of the behavior of the thermal degradation temperatures in polycarbonates. The study as presented here proves that ab initio calculations on small model systems, which are representative for the active area of the degradation process in polycarbonates, can provide insight into the principal ingredients that govern the reaction rates.