Ethyl Lactate Production from the Catalytic Depolymerisation of Post-consumer Poly(lactic acid)

Luis A. Román-Ramírez, Mark Powders, Paul McKeown, Matthew D. Jones, Joseph Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (SciVal)


Bioplastics such as poly(lactic acid) (PLA), which are derived from renewable sources, promoted as biodegradable and implemented for numerous functions, offer a promising alternative to the enduring synthetic plastics abundant in society. However, the degradation of PLA is slow under natural environmental conditions. A chemical recycling route is thus required to couple mitigation of plastic persistence repercussions with circular economy adherence. In the present work, the production of ethyl lactate by the catalysed transesterification of post-consumer PLA was investigated. The catalyst employed was a propylendiamine Zn(II) complex. The PLA samples investigated consisted of a phone case, an infant’s toy, a film, a cup and 3D printing material. Degradation reactions were studied at 50 °C and 90 °C and the concentrations measured at two different time intervals, 1 h and 3 h. The results revealed that greater activity of the catalyst was observed at 50 °C for two PLA samples (cup, 3D print). PLA film achieved the greatest lactate yield (71%) of all samples after 3 h at 50 °C. It is concluded that the propylenediamine Zn(II) catalyst can be used to produce green solvent ethyl lactate at mild temperatures from post-consumer PLA, even in the presence of unknown additives.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2956–2964
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Polymers and the Environment
Issue number11
Early online date17 Jul 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2020


  • Catalysis
  • Depolymerisation
  • Ethyl lactate
  • Poly(lactic acid)
  • Renewable chemicals

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Polymers and Plastics
  • Materials Chemistry


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