Cyclopropane is a cycloalkanemolecule with the molecular formula C3H6, consisting of three carbonatoms linked to each other to form a ring, with each carbon atom bearing two hydrogen atoms. The bonds between the carbon atoms are a great deal weaker than in a typical carbon-carbon bond. This is the result of the 60° angle between the carbon atoms, which is far less than the normal angle of 109.5°. For bonds between atoms with sp3 hybridised orbitals. This angle strain has to be subtracted from the normal C-C bond energy, making the resultant compound more reactive than acyclic alkanes and other cycloalkanes such as cyclohexane and cyclopentane. This is the banana bond description of cycloalkanes.
However, cyclopropanes are more stable than a simple angle strain analysis would suggest. Cyclopropane can also be modeled as a three-center-bonded orbital combination of methylene carbenes. This results in the Walsh orbital description of cyclopropane, where the C-C bonds have mostly pi character. This is also why cyclopropanes often have reactivity similar to alkenes. This is also why carbenes can easily add into alkenes to produce cyclopropanes. Cyclopropanes taken to the extreme are tetrahedranes and propellanes.
Cyclopropane is an anaesthetic when inhaled, but has been superseded by other agents in modern anaesthetic practice. This is due to its extreme reactivity under normal conditions: when the gas is mixed with oxygen there is a significant risk of explosion.
Because of the strain in the carbon-carbon bonds of cyclopropane, the molecule has an enormous amount of potential energy. In pure form, it will break down to form linear hydrocarbons, including "normal", non-cyclic propene. This decomposition is potentially explosive, especially if the cyclopropane is liquified, pressurized, or contained within tanks. Explosions of cyclopropane and oxygen are even more powerful, because the energy released by the formation of normal propane is compounded by the energy released via the oxidation of the carbon and hydrogen present. At room temperature, sufficient volumes of liquified cyclopropane will self-detonate. To guard against this, the liquid is shipped in cylinders filled with tungsten wool, which prevents high-speed collisions between molecules and vastly improves stability. Pipes to carry cyclopropane must likewise be of small diameter, or else filled with unreactive metal or glass wool, to prevent explosions. Even if these precautions are followed, cyclopropane is dangerous to handle and manufacture, and is no longer used for anaesthesia.
^Asymmetric Catalysis of the [5 + 2] Cycloaddition Reaction of Vinylcyclopropanes and -Systems
Paul A. Wender, Lars O. Haustedt, Jaehong Lim, Jennifer A. Love, Travis J. Williams, and Joo-Yong Yoon
J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(19) pp 6302 - 6303; Abstract
^PtCl2-Catalyzed Rearrangement of Methylenecyclopropanes Alois Fürstner and Christophe Aïssa J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(19) pp 6306 -6307; Abstract
^ Reaction mechanism: The starting compound contains one deuterium atom (D), in the first step PtCl2 coordinates to the double bond in 1a. The next step is oxidative addition to 1b which is a non-classical ion. This intermediate rearranges to the cyclobutane carbocation 1c which has also some carbene character through one of its resonance structures. The next step is a deuterium migration to the more stable benzylic carbocation after which the cyclobutene is liberated.
^Palladium-Catalyzed Ring Enlargement of Aryl-Substituted Methylenecyclopropanes to Cyclobutenes Min Shi, Le-Ping Liu, and Jie Tang J. Am. Chem. Soc.; 2006; 128(23) pp 7430 - 7431; doi:10.1021/ja061749y