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This documentation is for an old version of Cantera. You can find docs for newer versions here.


Cantera supports a number of different types of reactions, including several types of homogeneous reactions, surface reactions, and electrochemical reactions. For each, there is a corresponding entry type. The simplest entry type is reaction, which can be used for any homogeneous reaction that has a rate expression that obeys the law of mass action, with a rate coefficient that depends only on temperature.

Common Attributes

All of the entry types that define reactions share some common features. These are described first, followed by descriptions of the individual reaction types in the following sections.

The Reaction Equation

The reaction equation determines the reactant and product stoichiometry. A relatively simple parsing strategy is currently used, which assumes that all coefficient and species symbols on either side of the equation are delimited by spaces:

2 CH2 <=> CH + CH3      # OK
2 CH2<=>CH + CH3        # OK
2CH2 <=> CH + CH3       # error
CH2 + CH2 <=> CH + CH3  # OK
2 CH2 <=> CH+CH3        # error

The incorrect versions here would generate “undeclared species” errors and would halt processing of the input file. In the first case, the error would be that the species 2CH2 is undeclared, and in the second case it would be species CH+CH3.

Whether the reaction is reversible or not is determined by the form of the equality sign in the reaction equation. If either <=> or = is found, then the reaction is regarded as reversible, and the reverse rate will be computed from detailed balance. If, on the other hand, => is found, the reaction will be treated as irreversible.

The rate coefficient is specified with an embedded entry corresponding to the rate coefficient type. At present, the only implemented type is the modified Arrhenius function

\[k_f(T) = A T^n \exp(-E/\hat{R}T)\]

which is defined with an Arrhenius entry:

rate_coeff = Arrhenius(A=1.0e13, n=0, E=(7.3, 'kcal/mol'))
rate_coeff = Arrhenius(1.0e13, 0, (7.3, 'kcal/mol'))

As a shorthand, if the rate_coeff field is assigned a sequence of three numbers, these are assumed to be \((A, n, E)\) in the modified Arrhenius function:

rate_coeff = [1.0e13, 0, (7.3, 'kcal/mol')] # equivalent to above

The units of the pre-exponential factor A can be specified explicitly if desired. If not specified, they will be constructed using the quantity, length, and time units specified in the units directive. Since the units of A depend on the reaction order, the units of each reactant concentration (different for bulk species in solution, surface species, and pure condensed-phase species), and the units of the rate of progress (different for homogeneous and heterogeneous reactions), it is usually best not to specify units for A, in which case they will be computed taking all of these factors into account.

Note: if \(n \ne 0\), then the term \(T^n\) should have units of \(K^n\), which would change the units of A. This is not done, however, so the units associated with A are really the units for \(k_f\) . One way to formally express this is to replace \(T^n\) by the non-dimensional quantity \([T/(1 K)]^n\).

The ID String

An optional identifying string can be entered in the ID field, which can then be used in the reactions field of a phase or interface entry to identify this reaction. If omitted, the reactions are assigned ID strings as they are read in, beginning with '0001', '0002', etc.

Note that the ID string is only used when selectively importing reactions. If all reactions in the local file or in an external one are imported into a phase or interface, then the reaction ID field is not used.


Certain conditions are normally flagged as errors by Cantera. In some cases, they may not be errors, and the options field can be used to specify how they should be handled.

The 'skip' option can be used to temporarily remove this reaction from the phase or interface that imports it, just as if the reaction entry were commented out. The advantage of using skip instead of commenting it out is that a warning message is printed each time a phase or interface definition tries to import it. This serves as a reminder that this reaction is not included, which can easily be forgotten when a reaction is “temporarily” commented out of an input file.

Normally, when a reaction is imported into a phase, it is checked to see that it is not a duplicate of another reaction already present in the phase, and an error results if a duplicate is found. But in some cases, it may be appropriate to include duplicate reactions, for example if a reaction can proceed through two distinctly different pathways, each with its own rate expression. Another case where duplicate reactions can be used is if it is desired to implement a reaction rate coefficient of the form:

\[k_f(T) = \sum_{n=1}^{N} A_n T^{b_n} exp(-E_n/\hat{R}T)\]

While Cantera does not provide such a form for reaction rates, it can be implemented by defining N duplicate reactions, and assigning one rate coefficient in the sum to each reaction. If the 'duplicate' option is specified, then the reaction not only may have a duplicate, it must. Any reaction that specifies that it is a duplicate, but cannot be paired with another reaction in the phase that qualifies as its duplicate generates an error.

If some of the terms in the above sum have negative \(A_n\), this scheme fails, since Cantera normally does not allow negative pre-exponential factors. But if there are duplicate reactions such that the total rate is positive, then negative A parameters are acceptable, as long as the 'negative_A' option is specified.

Reactions with Pressure-Independent Rate

The reaction entry is used to represent homogeneous reactions with pressure-independent rate coefficients and mass action kinetics. Examples of reaction entries that implement some reactions in the GRI-Mech 3.0 natural gas combustion mechanism [3] are shown below:

units(length = 'cm', quantity = 'mol', act_energy = 'cal/mol')
reaction( "O + H2 <=> H + OH", [3.87000E+04, 2.7, 6260])
reaction( "O + HO2 <=> OH + O2", [2.00000E+13, 0.0, 0])
reaction( "O + H2O2 <=> OH + HO2", [9.63000E+06, 2.0, 4000])
reaction( "O + HCCO <=> H + 2 CO", [1.00000E+14, 0.0, 0])
reaction( "H + O2 + AR <=> HO2 + AR", [7.00000E+17, -0.8, 0])
reaction( "HO2 + C3H7 <=> O2 + C3H8", [2.55000E+10, 0.255, -943])
reaction( "HO2 + C3H7 => OH + C2H5 + CH2O", [2.41000E+13, 0.0, 0])

Three-Body Reactions

A three-body reaction is a gas-phase reaction of the form:

\[{\rm A + B} \rightleftharpoons {\rm AB + M}\]

Here M is an unspecified collision partner that carries away excess energy to stabilize the AB molecule (forward direction) or supplies energy to break the AB bond (reverse direction).

Different species may be more or less effective in acting as the collision partner. A species that is much lighter than A and B may not be able to transfer much of its kinetic energy, and so would be inefficient as a collision partner. On the other hand, a species with a transition from its ground state that is nearly resonant with one in the AB* activated complex may be much more effective at exchanging energy than would otherwise be expected.

These effects can be accounted for by defining a collision efficiency \(\epsilon\) for each species, defined such that the forward reaction rate is



\[[M] = \sum_k \epsilon_k C_k\]

where \(C_k\) is the concentration of species k. Since any constant collision efficiency can be absorbed into the rate coefficient \(k_f(T)\), the default collision efficiency is 1.0.

A three-body reaction may be defined using the three_body_reaction entry. The equation string for a three-body reaction must contain an 'M' or 'm' on both the reactant and product sides of the equation.

Some examples from GRI-Mech 3.0 are shown below:

three_body_reaction( "2 O + M <=> O2 + M", [1.20000E+17, -1, 0],
                     " AR:0.83 C2H6:3 CH4:2 CO:1.75 CO2:3.6 H2:2.4 H2O:15.4 ")

three_body_reaction( "O + H + M <=> OH + M", [5.00000E+17, -1, 0],
                     efficiencies = " AR:0.7 C2H6:3 CH4:2 CO:1.5 CO2:2 H2:2 H2O:6 ")

    equation = "H + OH + M <=> H2O + M",
    rate_coeff = [2.20000E+22, -2, 0],
    efficiencies = " AR:0.38 C2H6:3 CH4:2 H2:0.73 H2O:3.65 "

As always, the field names are optional if the field values are entered in the declaration order.

Falloff Reactions

A falloff reaction is one that has a rate that is first-order in [M] at low pressure, like a three-body reaction, but becomes zero-order in [M] as [M] increases. Dissociation / association reactions of polyatomic molecules often exhibit this behavior.

The simplest expression for the rate coefficient for a falloff reaction is the Lindemann form [2]:

\[k_f(T, [{\rm M}]) = \frac{k_0[{\rm M}]}{1 + \frac{k_0{\rm [M]}}{k_\infty}}\]

In the low-pressure limit, this approaches \(k0{\rm [M]}\), and in the high-pressure limit it approaches \(k_\infty\).

Defining the non-dimensional reduced pressure:

\[P_r = \frac{k_0 {\rm [M]}}{k_\infty}\]

The rate constant may be written as

\[k_f(T, P_r) = k_\infty \left(\frac{P_r}{1 + P_r}\right)\]

More accurate models for unimolecular processes lead to other, more complex, forms for the dependence on reduced pressure. These can be accounted for by multiplying the Lindemann expression by a function \(F(T, P_r)\):

\[k_f(T, P_r) = k_\infty \left(\frac{P_r}{1 + P_r}\right) F(T, P_r)\]

This expression is used to compute the rate coefficient for falloff reactions. The function \(F(T, P_r)\) is the falloff function, and is specified by assigning an embedded entry to the falloff field.

The Troe Falloff Function

A widely-used falloff function is the one proposed by Gilbert et al. [1]:

\[\log_{10} F(T, P_r) = \frac{\log_{10} F_{cent}(T)}{1 + f_1^2}\]\[F_{cent}(T) = (1-A) \exp(-T/T_3) + A \exp (-T/T_1) + \exp(-T_2/T)\]\[f_1 = (\log_{10} P_r + C) / (N - 0.14 (\log_{10} P_r + C))\]\[C = -0.4 - 0.67\; \log_{10} F_{cent}\]\[N = 0.75 - 1.27\; \log_{10} F_{cent}\]

The Troe directive requires specifying the first three parameters \((A, T_3, T_1)\). The fourth parameter, \(T_2\), is optional, defaulting to 0.0.

The SRI Falloff Function

This falloff function is based on the one originally due to Stewart et al. [4], which required three parameters \((a, b, c)\). Kee et al. [5] generalized this function slightly by adding two more parameters \((d, e)\). (The original form corresponds to \(d = 1, e = 0\).) Cantera supports the extended 5-parameter form, given by:

\[F(T, P_r) = d \bigl[a \exp(-b/T) + \exp(-T/c)\bigr]^{1/(1+\log_{10}^2 P_r )} T^e\]

In keeping with the nomenclature of [Kee et al., 1989], we will refer to this as the “SRI” falloff function. It is implemented by the SRI directive.

Pressure-Dependent Arrhenius Rate Expressions (P-Log)

The pdep_arrhenius class represents pressure-dependent reaction rates by logarithmically interpolating between Arrhenius rate expressions at various pressures. Given two rate expressions at two specific pressures:

\[P_1: k_1(T) = A_1 T^{b_1} e^{E_1 / RT}\]\[P_2: k_2(T) = A_2 T^{b_2} e^{E_2 / RT}\]

The rate at an intermediate pressure \(P_1 < P < P_2\) is computed as

\[\log k(T,P) = \log k_1(T) + \bigl(\log k_2(T) - \log k_1(T)\bigr) \frac{\log P - \log P_1}{\log P_2 - \log P_1}\]

Multiple rate expressions may be given at the same pressure, in which case the rate used in the interpolation formula is the sum of all the rates given at that pressure. For pressures outside the given range, the rate expression at the nearest pressure is used.

An example of a reaction specified in this format:

pdep_arrhenius('R1 + R2 <=> P1 + P2',
               [(0.001315789, 'atm'), 2.440000e+10, 1.04, 3980.0],
               [(0.039473684, 'atm'), 3.890000e+10, 0.989, 4114.0],
               [(1.0, 'atm'), 3.460000e+12, 0.442, 5463.0],
               [(10.0, 'atm'), 1.720000e+14, -0.01, 7134.0],
               [(100.0, 'atm'), -7.410000e+30, -5.54, 12108.0],
               [(100.0, 'atm'), 1.900000e+15, -0.29, 8306.0])

The first argument is the reaction equation. Each subsequent argument is a sequence of four elements specifying a pressure and the Arrhenius parameters at that pressure.

Chebyshev Reaction Rate Expressions

Class chebyshev represents a phenomenological rate coefficient \(k(T,P)\) in terms of a bivariate Chebyshev polynomial. The rate constant can be written as:

\[\log k(T,P) = \sum_{t=1}^{N_T} \sum_{p=1}^{N_P} \alpha_{tp} \phi_t(\tilde{T}) \phi_p(\tilde{P})\]

where \(\alpha_{tp}\) are the constants defining the rate, \(\phi_n(x)\) is the Chebyshev polynomial of the first kind of degree \(n\) evaluated at \(x\), and

\[\tilde{T} \equiv \frac{2T^{-1} - T_\mathrm{min}^{-1} - T_\mathrm{max}^{-1}} {T_\mathrm{max}^{-1} - T_\mathrm{min}^{-1}}\]\[\tilde{P} \equiv \frac{2 \log P - \log P_\mathrm{min} - \log P_\mathrm{max}} {\log P_\mathrm{max} - \log P_\mathrm{min}}\]

are reduced temperature and reduced pressures which map the ranges \((T_\mathrm{min}, T_\mathrm{max})\) and \((P_\mathrm{min}, P_\mathrm{max})\) to \((-1, 1)\).

A Chebyshev rate expression is specified in terms of the coefficient matrix \(\alpha\) and the temperature and pressure ranges. An example of a Chebyshev rate expression where \(N_T = 6\) and \(N_P = 4\) is:

chebyshev_reaction('R1 + R2 <=> P1 + P2',
                   Tmin=290.0, Tmax=3000.0,
                   Pmin=(0.001, 'atm'), Pmax=(100.0, 'atm'),
                   coeffs=[[-1.44280e+01,  2.59970e-01, -2.24320e-02, -2.78700e-03],
                           [ 2.20630e+01,  4.88090e-01, -3.96430e-02, -5.48110e-03],
                           [-2.32940e-01,  4.01900e-01, -2.60730e-02, -5.04860e-03],
                           [-2.93660e-01,  2.85680e-01, -9.33730e-03, -4.01020e-03],
                           [-2.26210e-01,  1.69190e-01,  4.85810e-03, -2.38030e-03],
                           [-1.43220e-01,  7.71110e-02,  1.27080e-02, -6.41540e-04]])

Note that the Chebyshev polynomials are not defined outside the interval \((-1,1)\), and therefore extrapolation of rates outside the range of temperatures and pressure for which they are defined is strongly discouraged.


[1]R. G. Gilbert, K. Luther, and J. Troe. Ber. Bunsenges. Phys. Chem., 87:169, 1983.
  1. Lindemann. Trans. Faraday Soc., 17:598, 1922.
[3]Gregory P. Smith, David M. Golden, Michael Frenklach, Nigel W. Moriarty, Boris Eiteneer, Mikhail Goldenberg, C. Thomas Bowman, Ronald K. Hanson, Soonho Song, William C. Gardiner, Jr., Vitali V. Lissianski, , and Zhiwei Qin. GRI-Mech version 3.0, 1997. see
[4]P. H. Stewart, C. W. Larson, and D. Golden. Combustion and Flame, 75:25, 1989.
[5]R. J. Kee, F. M. Rupley, and J. A. Miller. Chemkin-II: A Fortran chemical kinetics package for the analysis of gas-phase chemical kinetics. Technical Report SAND89-8009, Sandia National Laboratories, 1989.