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Determination of oligomers in virgin and recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) samples by UPLC-MS-QTOF
An oligomer is a molecule that consists of a few monomer units. It can be formed during polymer manufacturing and also due to polymer degradation processes or even during use conditions.
Since oligomers are not included in chemical databases, their identification is a complex process. In this work, the oligomers present in 20 different PET pellet samples have been determined.
Two different sample treatment procedures, solvent extraction and total dissolution, were applied in order to select the most efficient one.
The analyses were carried out by UPLC-MS-QTOF. The use of high resolution mass spectrometry allowed the structural elucidation of these compounds and their correct identification. The main oligomers identified were cyclic as well as lineal from the first, second, and third series.
All of them were composed of terephthalic acid (TPA), diethylene glycol (DEG), and ethylene glycol (EG). Quantitative values were very different in both procedures.
In total dissolution of PET samples, the concentration of oligomers was always, at least, 10 times higher than in solvent extraction; some of the compounds were only detected when total dissolution was used.
Results showed that the o
ligomers with the highest concentration values were dimers and trimers, cyclic, as well as lineal, from the first and second series.
The oligomer with the maximum concentration value was TPA2-EG-DEG that was found in all the samples in a concentration range from 2493 to 19,290 ng/g PET. No differences between virgin and recycled PET were found.
Migration experiments were performed in two PET bottles, and results showed the transference of most of these oligomers to a fat food simulant (ethanol 95%).