Free-Radical Frontal Polymerization: Self-Propagating Thermal Reaction Waves

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Chemistry and Biochemistry


Mathematics and Natural Sciences


Frontal polymerization is a mode of converting monomer into polymer via a localized reaction zone that propagates. Such fronts can exist with free-radical polymerization or epoxy curing. The necessary conditions for the existence of the free-radical frontal polymerization regime are considered. The physicochemical properties of monomers are classified in connection with complications arising in the experiments, including low conversion, convection and bubbles. The density gradient in the reaction zone leading to front decay is the most insidious problem. The analysis of forces that can withstand the Taylor instability allowed us to overcome experimental difficulties and develop approaches to polymerize low-viscosity monomers in the frontal mode. The factors affecting front shape, velocity, conversion, and molecular weight are considered.

Historically, frontal polymerization has been performed in neat monomer but we have been able to obtain fronts of very reactive monomers in high-boiling-point solvents including water, DMSO and DMF. Periodic frontal polymerization modes have been observed, including single and multi-point spin modes in which ‘hot spots’(local high-temperature regions) migrate around the front as it propagates. We investigated experimentally the occurrence of the different modes as a function of the initial temperature and the intensity of heat losses and made a qualitative comparison to the results of theoretical analyses based on infinitely narrow reaction zone models.

The future directions of research with frontal polymerization are considered, especially with regard to applications to materials synthesis.

Publication Title

Journal of the Chemical Society, Faraday Transactions





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