Nitromethane is used as a fuel in racing, particularly drag racing, and commonly referred to in this context as "nitro" or "top fuel". The oxygen content of nitromethane enables it to burn with much less atmospheric oxygen in comparison to hydrocarbons such as gasoline:
- 4CH3NO2 + 3O2 → 4CO2 + 6H2O + 2N2
14.7 kg of air is required to burn one kilogram of gasoline, but only 1.7 kg of air for one kilogram of nitromethane. Since an engine’s cylinder can only contain a limited amount of air on each stroke, 8.7 times more nitromethane than gasoline can be burned in one stroke. Nitromethane, however, has a lower energy density: Gasoline provides about 42–44 megajoule|MJ/kg whereas nitromethane provides only 11.3 MJ/kg. This analysis indicates that nitromethane generates about 2.3 times the power of gasoline when combined with a given amount of oxygen.
A small amount of hydrazine blended in nitromethane can increase the power output even further. With nitromethane, hydrazine forms an explosive salt that is again a monopropellant. This unstable mixture poses a severe safety hazard.
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