High molar mass cyclic poly(l-lactide) obtained by means of neat tin(ii) 2-ethylhexanoate†
L-Lactide was polymerized in bulk at 120, 140, 160 and 180 °C with neat tin(II) 2-ethylhexanoate (SnOct2) as the catalyst. At 180 °C the Lac/Cat ratio was varied from 25/1 up to 8000/1 and at 160 °C from 25/1 up to 6000/1. The vast majority of the resulting polylactides consist of cycles in combination with a small fraction of linear chains having one octanoate and one COOH end group. The linear chains almost vanished at high Lac/Cat ratios, as evidenced by MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry and measurements of intrinsic viscosities and dn/dc values. At Lac/Cat ratios <1000/1 the number average molar masses (Mn) are far higher than expected for stoichiometic initiation, and above 400/1 the molar masses vary relatively little with the Lac/Cat ratio. At 180 °C slight discoloration even at short times and degradation of the molar masses were observed, but at 160 °C or below colorless products with weight average molar masses (Mw) up to 310 000 g mol−1 were obtained. The formation of high molar mass cyclic polylactides is explained by a ROPPOC (Ring-Opening Polymerizatiom with simultaneous Polycondensation) mechanism with intermediate formation of linear chains having one Sn–O–CH end group and one mixed anhydride end group. Additional experiments with tin(II)acetate as the catalyst confirm this interpretation. These findings together with the detection of several transesterification mechanisms confirm the previous critique of the Jacobson–Stockmayer theory.