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Nitromethane (Molecule of the Month for August 2006)


Nitromethane is the simplest organic nitro compound. It is a slightly viscous, highly polar liquid commonly used as a solvent in a variety of industrial applications such as in extractions, as a reaction medium, and as a cleaning solvent. As an reactant in organic synthesis, it is used widely in the manufacture of pharmaceuticals, pesticides, explosives, fibers, and coatings. It also finds use as a racing fuel.

Nitromethane is used as a fuel in racing, particularly drag racing, to provide more power. Nitromethane is usually used with rich air/fuel mixtures. This is partly because nitromethane can provide power even in the absence of atmospheric oxygen, as described above, but it's also because nitromethane tends to produce severe knock and pre-ignition. Rich mixtures do however cause ignition problems and a lower combustion speed. In this context, it is commonly referred to as "nitro" or "fuel". It has also been used as a model rocket fuel. It is normally mixed with methanol.

Nitromethane was not known to be an explosive until the 1950s, when a whole railroad tanker car of it exploded, leaving a huge crater. Much testing later it was realized that nitromethane was a more energetic high explosive than TNT. Pure nitromethane is a very insensitive explosive, but even so inhibitors may be used to reduce the hazards.

Formal Chemical Name (IUPAC)



Picture of Nitromethane

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Nitromethane structure
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Picture of Nitromethane


Update by Karl Harrison
(Molecule of the Month for August 2006 )