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  1. Here, low-energy poly(ethylene terephthalate) (PET) chemical recycling in water: PET copolymers with diethyl 2,5-dihydroxyterephthalate (DHTE) undergo selective hydrolysis at DHTE sites, autocatalyzed by neighboring group participation, is demonstrated. Liberated oligomeric subchains further hydrolyze until only small molecules remain. Poly(ethylene terephthalate-stat-2,5-dihydroxyterephthalate) copolymers were synthesized via melt polycondensation and then hydrolyzed in 150–200 °C water with 0–1 wt% ZnCl2, or alternatively in simulated sea water. Degradation progress follows pseudo-first order kinetics. With increasing DHTE loading, the rate constant increases monotonically while the thermal activation barrier decreases. The depolymerization products are ethylene glycol, terephthalic acid, 2,5-dihydroxyterephthalic acid, and bis(2-hydroxyethyl) terephthalate dimer, which could be used to regenerate virgin polymer. Composition-optimized copolymers show a decrease of nearly 50% in the Arrhenius activation energy, suggesting a 6-order reduction in depolymerization time under ambient conditions compared to that of PET homopolymer. This study provides new insight to the design of polymers for end-of-life while maintaining key properties like service temperature and mechanical properties. Moreover, this chemical recycling procedure is more environmentally friendly compared to traditional approaches since water is the only needed material, which is green, sustainable, and cheap. 
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  2. Electrocatalytic upgrading of biomass-derived feedstocks driven by renewable electricity offers a greener way to reduce the global carbon footprint associated with the production of value-added chemicals. Paired electrolysis is an emerging platform for cogenerating high-valued chemicals from both the cathode and anode, potentially powered by renewable electricity from wind or solar sources. By pairing with an anodic biomass oxidation upgrading reaction, the elimination of the sluggish and less valuable water oxidation increases flow cell productivity and efficiency. In this presentation, we report our research progress on paired electrolsysis of HMF to production of higher valued chemicals in electrochemical flow cells. We first prepared an oxide-derived Ag (OD-Ag) electrode with high activity and up to 98.2% selectivity for the ECH of 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural (HMF) to 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF), and such efficient conversion was achieved in a three-electrode flow cell. The excellent BHMF selectivity was maintained over a broad potential range with long-term operational stability. In HMF-to-BHMF paired with 2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine 1-oxyl (TEMPO)-mediated HMF-to-FDCA conversion, a markedly reduced cell voltage from ~7.5 V to ~2.0 V was observed by transferring the electrolysis from the H-type cell to the flow cell, corresponding to more than four-fold increase in energy efficiency in operation at 10 mA. A combined faradaic efficiency of 163% was obtained to BHMF and FDCA. Alternatively, the anodic hydrogen oxidation reaction on platinum further reduced the cell voltage to only ~0.85 V at 10 mA. Next, we have demonstrated membrane electrode assembly (MEA)-based flow cells for the paired electrolysis of 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural (HMF) paired electrolysis to bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF) and 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA). In this work, the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) was substituted by TEMPO-mediated HMF oxidation, dropping the cell voltage was from 1.4 V to 0.7 V at a current density of 1.0 mA cm−2. A minimized cell voltage of ~1.5 V for a continuous 24 h co-electrolysis of HMF was then achieved at the current density of 2 mA cm−2(constant current of 10 mA), leading to the highest combined faradaic efficiency (FE) of 139% for HMF-to-BHMF and HMF-to-FDCA. A NiFe oxide catalyst on carbon cloth further replaced the anodic TEMPO mediator for HMF paired electrolysis in a pH-asymmetric flow cell. We envision renewable electrical energy can potentially drive the whole process, thus providing a sustainable avenue towards distributed, scalable, and energy-efficient electrosynthesis. 
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  3. Biomass is abundant, inexpensive and renewable, therefore, it is highly expected to play a significant role in our future energy and chemical landscapes. The US DOE has identified furanic compounds (furfural and 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural (HMF)) as the top platform building-block chemicals that can be readily derived from biomass sources [1]. Electrocatalytic conversion of these furanic compounds is an emerging route for the sustainable production of valuable chemicals [2, 3]. In my presentation, I will first present our recent mechanistic study of electrocatlytic hydrogenation (ECH) of furfural through a combination of voltammetry, preparative electrolysis, thiol-electrode modifications, and kinetic isotope studies [4]. It is demonstrated that two distinct mechanisms are operable on metallic Cu electrodes in acidic electrolytes: (i) electrocatalytic hydrogenation (ECH) and (ii) direct electroreduction. The contributions of each mechanism to the observed product distribution are clarified by evaluating the requirement for direct chemical interactions with the electrode surface and the role of adsorbed hydrogen. Further analysis reveals that hydrogenation and hydrogenolysis products are generated by parallel ECH pathways. Understanding the underlying mechanisms enables the manipulation of furfural reduction by rationally tuning the electrode potential, electrolyte pH, and furfural concentration to promote selective formation of important bio-based polymer precursors and fuels We further studied the mechanisms on the Pb electrode, based on the potential regulated ECH and ER products. Isotopic incorporation studies and electrokinetics have confirmed ECH process to alcohol and alkyl product followed different pathways: alcohol was generated from Langmuir Hinshelwood step through surface-bound furfural and hydrogen, which is sensitive to surface structures. In contrast, alkyl product was formed through an Eley–Rideal step via surface-bound furfural and the inner-sphere protons. By modifying the electrode/electrolyte interface, we have elucidated H2O and H3O+ matters in forming alcohol and alkyl products, respectively. Dynamic oscillation studies and electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) finally confirmed that the alcohol and dimer products shared the same intermediate. The dimer was formed through the intermediate desorption from the surface to form radicals and the self-coupling of two radicals at the bulk electrolyte. Next, I will present electrocatalytic conversion of HMF to two biobased monomers in an H-type electrochemical cell [5]. HMF reduction (hydrogenation) to 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF) was achieved under mild electrolyte conditions and ambient temperature using a Ag/C cathode. Meanwhile, HMF oxidation to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) with ~100% efficiency was facilitated under the same conditions by a homogeneous nitroxyl radical redox mediator. We recently developed a three-electrode flow cell with an oxide-derived Ag (OD-Ag) cathode and catbon felt anode for paring elecatalytic oxidation and reduction of HMF [6]. The flow cell has a remarkably low cell voltage: from ~7.5 V to ~2.0 V by transferring the electrolysis from the H-type cell to the flow cell. This represents a more than fourfold increase in the energy efficiency at the 10 mA operation. A combined faradaic efficiency of 163% was obtained to BHMF and FDCA. Alternatively, the anodic hydrogen oxidation reaction on platinum further reduced the cell voltage to only ~0.85 V at 10 mA operation. These paired processes have shown potential for integrating renewable electricity and carbon for distributed chemical manufacturing in the future. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Paired electrolysis has been emerged as an electricity-powered platform for converting biorewable feedstock to higher-valued chemicals at both the cathode and anode. In this presentation, we explored paired electrolyzers of different architectures with remarkable performance and stability. We first designed three-electrode flow electrolyzers to pair electrocatalytic hydrogenation of 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural (HMF) on oxide-derived silver electrode and TEMPO-mediated HMF oxidation on carbon cloth. The paired flow cell achieved a combined faradaic efficiency of 163% to desired 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF) and 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) with a cell potential of ~1.7 V, at the constant current of 10 mA. When the anodic reaction was replaced by hydrogen oxidation, a minimized cell voltage of only ~0.9 V was achieved. We then assmbled a membrane electrode assembly (MEA)-based two-electrode flow cell, which realized a minimized cell potential of only ~1.5 V for a continuous 24 hours paired electrolysis of HMF. Finally, a pH asymmetric architecture was designed to match the optimum reaction conditions and to replace HMF oxidation on a NiFeOOH anode catalyst without a redox mediator. Our recent development of electrochemical-chemical combined reactors for furanic compounds conversion will also be briefly presented. 
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  5. null (Ed.)
    Organic electrosynthesis is emerging as a cost-effective and environmental-friendly chemical production strategy by utilizing renewable electricity. Paired electrolysis cogenerates valuable chemicals at both electrodes can optimize the energy efficiency and economic feasibility. We report pairing hydrogenation and oxidation of 5-(hydroxymethyl)furfural (HMF) or furfural to desired chemicals at a single electrolysis cell. Electrocatalytic hydrogenation of HMF to 2,5-bis(hydroxymethyl)furan (BHMF) and furfural to furfural alcohol (FA) with high selectivity of >90% can be operated at near-neutral pH on Ag-based and Pb-based catalysts, respectively. In addition, oxidizing HMF to 2,5-furandicarboxylic acid (FDCA) and furfural to furoic acid can both be realized at TEMPO mediated process by using carbon-based catalysts or at Ni-based catalyst in an alkaline medium. Taken together, HMF or furfural can be performed in a single electrolysis cell with a minimized cell voltage only around 1.6 V. Products selectivity and faradaic efficiency are highly related to the reaction conditions, including potential or current density, architectures of the reactor, type of catalysts. By optimizing the single flow reactor, a three-electrode system, two-electrode membrane assembly architecture, and pH-symmetric and pH-asymmetric structure can be designed to reduce the capital expense, minimize required energy, and simplify processing steps. Finally, a complete electrons economy can be achieved by pairing two electrochemical reactions, and the overall charge efficiency can attain over 170% without any crossover issue detected. As a result, the continuous cogeneration of high value-added BHMF or FA and FDCA or furoic acid can be performed in a single electrolyzer. 
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