Insight into Polyethylene and Polypropylene Pyrolysis: Global and Mechanistic Models

Rebecca E. Harmon, Gorugantu Sribala, Linda J. Broadbelt, Alan K. Burnham*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Pyrolysis of polyolefins has been proposed as a potential resource recovery strategy by converting macromolecules into valuable fuels and chemicals. Due to variations in possible backbone structures, chain-length distributions, and arrangements of pendant groups, their decomposition behavior via pyrolysis can be complex. In the present work, a review of historical data and empirical models for two distinct polyolefins, polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP), is provided followed by a comparison to recent mechanistic models. The characteristic sigmoidal behavior of linear polymer decomposition is captured with global, lumped-species, and mechanistic models of high-density polyethylene. The PE model was extended to simulate PP using the same reaction families and reaction family parameters, but with distinct rate coefficients that accounted for the difference in the structure of PP with its pendant methyl groups compared to PE as manifested through heats of reaction embedded in the Evans-Polanyi relationship, Ea= E0 + γ×ΔHreacn. The change in structure and its associated kinetic parameters resulted in no sigmoidal conversion, consistent with experimental reports for atactic PP. This suggests that mechanistic modeling could be an important complement to global model studies to understand when other effects are at play in the pyrolytic decomposition of polymers such as PP.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6765-6775
Number of pages11
JournalEnergy and Fuels
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 15 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemical Engineering(all)
  • Fuel Technology
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology


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