What Happens When A Nitrous Bottle Is Overheated

When handled properly, nitrous oxide can be one of the greatest tools in the arsenal of a racer to create that valuable horsepower needed to run with the pack. On the flip side, when it’s carelessly misused, the volatile chemical can have destructive and life-changing consequences. It’s not something to be played with or taken lightly,because not only are you and your crew in harms way should things go awry, but so too are innocent spectators and bystanders.

Such an occurrence was put on display last weekend at the Import vs. Domestic World Cup Finals at the Maryland International Raceway, when an overheated nitrous bottle let loose with all of hell’s fury, splitting open with incredible force under the extreme pressures and peeling open the side of the racers’ trailer like a tin can.

The uninitiated may be wondering why a racer would want to heat the bottle, and that’s certainly a good question.

Images courtesy of ATI Performance Products

Nitrous bottles perform at their optimum potential (and remain most consistent) when kept at a specific bottle pressure, of which temperature has a great effect. To that same effect, the bottle has to maintain a certain pressure (above 750-800 psi) to avoid the liquid turning to a gas during the run.

Manufacturers commonly recommend a bottle pressure of around 900-950 psi, and if the ambient air temperature is too low to create the desired pressure, it’s necessary to apply heat to the bottle. Due to the chilly temperatures in Maryland, such a process was required.

The heating of nitrous bottles is a rather controversial subject, as irresponsible racers have been known to use torches and other unsafe methods to heat the bottle that are outside the manufacturers recommendations and cross the line of stupidity. For many bottles, temperatures in excess of 130 degrees can weaken the bottle to the point of destruction. There are several very safe methods for heating bottles on the market, but the key is to monitor the temperature and pressure, or they too can cause catastrophic failure.

Miraculously, no one was in the general vicinity of the bottle at the time of the explosion shown here and there were no injuries, but we can certainly hope the situation served as a wake-up call for the racer and his team and that others who witnessed the incident or view these images will have a better understanding of what nitrous oxide is capable of if you don’t show it respect.

About the author

Andrew Wolf

Andrew has been involved in motorsports from a very young age. Over the years, he has photographed several major auto racing events, sports, news journalism, portraiture, and everything in between. After working with the Power Automedia staff for some time on a freelance basis, Andrew joined the team in 2010.
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