Nitromethane is a colourless oily liquid used in organic synthesis, and as a fuel for rockets, racing cars and model aircraft.
Why this substance is hazardous?
- Nitromethane (CH3NO3) is an energetic explosive greater than TNT (2,4,6,- Trinitrotoluene) at above normal temperature or pressure. At room temperature and pressure, it is flammable rather than explosive.
- It is an oxygen-poor explosive and considered insensitive so often the explosive risk is overshadowed by the flammable risk it has when used as a fuel.
- When fuel includes nitromethane the exhaust will contain nitric oxide vapour, which is corrosive, and when inhaled causes a muscular reaction making it impossible to breathe.
- Nitromethane is an acidic carbon in organic synthesis. It is also used as a motor racing fuel particularly for drag racing or radio-controlled models.
- The type of use will affect how hazardous nitromethane is. Nitromethane can detonate more easily when contaminated by acids, bases, amines or other “sensitizing” chemicals, or when handled at both increased pressure AND elevated temperatures.
Recommended control measures
This is a controlled chemical – see information on standards for all controlled chemicals.
Raised temperature and pressure
There is published evidence that nitromethane can be used in certain experiments at a raised temperature. However, this is not standard UCL practice and must be approved by the research group leader, and depending on the departmental O&A, the HoD and the full process signed off.
Store in accordance with good practice. As an explosive, nitromethane should be treated as a controlled material and storage should be safe and secure. Any unexpected or uncontrolled loss must be reported to UCL Safety Services.
Chemical safety library
> Read more about control measures for chemicals in our chemical safety library
On 1st June 1958 a railroad tanker containing nitromethane exploded, the cause was thought to be due to adiabatic pressure (air bubbles compressing and superheating due to a rise in pressure) – This risk is common to all liquid explosives.
Last updated: Thursday, June 24, 2021
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