Mechanistic modeling of polymer degradation: A comprehensive study of polystyrene

Todd M. Kruse, Oh Sang Woo, Hsi Wu Wong, Shumaila S. Khan, Linda J Broadbelt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

122 Scopus citations


The degradation of polystyrene was modeled at the mechanistic level by developing differential equations describing the evolution of the moments of structurally distinct polymer species. This work extends our previous modeling work by incorporating chain-length-dependent rate parameters, tracking branched species more explicitly, using rate parameters primarily from the literature, and comparing the model results to extensive experimental data on the degradation of polymers of different molecular weights and at different temperatures. Unique polymer groups were devised that allowed the necessary polymeric features for capturing the degradation chemistry to be tracked, while maintaining a manageable model size. The conversion among the species was described using typical free radical reaction types, including hydrogen abstraction, midchain β-scission, end-chain β-scission, 1,5-hydrogen transfer, 1,3-hydrogen transfer, radical addition, bond fission, radical recombination, and disproportionation. The model included over 2700 reactions and tracked 64 species. Programs were developed using the programming language Perl to assemble moment equations from input of the polymeric features to be tracked. The intrinsic kinetic parameters (a frequency factor and activation energy for each reaction) were obtained from data in the literature and previous modeling work in our laboratory. The model predictions for the evolution of Mn and Mw and the yields of styrene, dimer, and trimer compare very well with experimental data obtained in our laboratory for the degradation of polystyrene over a large temperature range and with different initial molecular weights. Evolution of low molecular weight products from experiments reported in the literature is also captured.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7830-7844
Number of pages15
Issue number20
StatePublished - Sep 24 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Organic Chemistry
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Materials Chemistry


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