Chain propagation (sometimes referred to as propagation) is a process in which a reactive intermediate is continuously regenerated during the course of a chemical chain reaction. For example in the chlorination of methane, there is a two-step propagation cycle involving as chain carriers a chlorine atom and a methyl radical which are regenerated alternately:
- Cl + CH4 → HCl + CH3
- CH3 + Cl2 → CH3Cl + Cl.
and a monomer that results in the growth of a polymer chain and the
regeneration of at least one chain carrier.
Note 1: The recommended symbol for the rate constant for chain
propagation in a homopolymerization is kp.
The two steps add to give the equation for the overall chain reaction:
- CH4 + Cl2 → CH3Cl + HCl.
In a chain-growth polymerization reaction, the reactive end-groups of a polymer chain react in each propagation step with a new monomer molecule transferring the reactive group to the last unit. Here the chain carrier is the polymer molecule with a reactive end-group, and at each step it is regenerated with the addition of one monomer unit:
- chain reaction IUPAC Gold Book