Modulation of Hydroxyl Radical Reactivity and Radical Degradation of High Density Polyethylene
Oxidative processes are linked to a number of major disease states as well as the breakdown of many materials. Of particular importance are reactive oxygen species (ROS), as they are known to be endogenously produced in biological systems as well as exogenously produced through a variety of different means. In hopes of better understanding what controls the behavior of ROS, researchers have studied radical chemistry on a fundamental level. Fundamental knowledge of what contributes to oxidative processes can be extrapolated to more complex biological or macromolecular systems.
Fundamental concepts and applied data (i.e. interaction of ROS with polymers, biomolecules, etc.) are critical to understanding the reactivity of ROS. A detailed review of the literature, focusing primarily on the hydroxyl radical (HO•) and hydrogen atom (H•) abstraction reactions, is presented in Chapter 1. Also reviewed herein is the literature concerning high density polyethylene (HDPE) degradation. Exposure to treated water systems is known to greatly reduce the lifetime of HDPE pipe. While there is no consensus on what leads to HDPE breakdown, evidence suggests oxidative processes are at play.
The research which follows in Chapter 2 focuses on the reactivity of the hydroxyl radical and how it is controlled by its environment. The HO• has been thought to react instantaneously, approaching the diffusion controlled rate and showing little to no selectivity. Both experimental and calculational evidence suggest that some of the previous assumptions regarding hydroxyl radical reactivity are wrong and that it is decidedly less reactive in an aprotic polar solvent than in aqueous solution. These findings are explained on the basis of a polarized transition state that can be stabilized via the hydrogen bonding afforded by water. Experimental and calculational evidence also suggest that the degree of polarization in the transition state will determine the magnitude of this solvent effect.
Chapter 3 discusses the results of HDPE degradation studies. While HDPE is an extremely stable polymer, exposure to chlorinated aqueous conditions severely reduces the lifetime of HDPE pipes. While much research exists detailing the mechanical breakdown and failure of these pipes under said conditions, a gap still exists in defining the species responsible or mechanism for this degradation. Experimental evidence put forth in this dissertation suggests that this is due to an auto-oxidative process initiated by free radicals in the chlorinated aqueous solution and propagated through singlet oxygen from the environment. A mechanism for HDPE degradation is proposed and discussed. Additionally two small molecules, 2,3-dichloro-2-methylbutane and 3-chloro-1,1-di-methylpropanol, have been suggested as HDPE byproducts. While the mechanism of formation for these products is still elusive, evidence concerning their identification and production in HDPE and PE oligomers is discussed.
Finally, Chapter 4 deals with concluding remarks of the aforementioned work. Future work needed to enhance and further the results published herein is also addressed.