Nitrous Safety

October 14th, 2011

Text by Mike Thermos and Bob Franzke

Photos Courtesy of NS Supply

Some may Call it Giggle Gas, but Safety Precautions for Nitrous use are no Laughing Matter

The use of a nitrous system to augment a vehicle’s performance has been around for more than 30 years now, with the marketplace offering many choices for the street enthusiast and racer alike. Along with the progression in the state-of-the-art nitrous technology throughout the years comes the responsibility of proper use to keep things safe, whether we’re talking about personal safety or safe use on a particular engine to promote maximum reliability without hurting parts.We’ll start with personal safety and explore how to avoid injury with the proper use and handling of nitrous oxide.

First and foremost, one should never put an open flame (torching) onto a nitrous bottle in an effort to bring bottle pressure up to its optimal state of 900-1,000 psi. This is especially true when exposing an aluminum bottle to temperatures in excess of 265°F.  This will begin the annealing process of the aluminum, which over time will alter the microstructure of the bottle, causing negative changes in properties such as strength, hardness and ductility. Eventually, this could have the serious consequence of blowing up the bottle. Instead, consider using a proper bottle heater kit designed specifically for this purpose that several nitrous kit manufacturers make available for a nominal cost. If you know or suspect an aluminum cylinder of having been exposed to elevated temperatures between 265°F and 350°F., it must be hydrostatically retested before returning it to service. Common evidence of exposure to temperatures above 265°F include:

 

* Charring or blistering of paint or other protective coating

* Distortion of cylinder

* Melting of fuse plug

* Charring or burning of the label

* Increases in total or permanent expansion from hydrotesting

* Distortion of valve or carrying handle

 

A nitrous bottle exposed to the direct action of fire or flame must be removed from service because its mechanical properties are adversely affected due to extreme temperatures, and it may fail under pressure.  Any aluminum cylinder exposed or suspected of having been exposed to temperatures in excess of 350°F must be removed from service. The longer it’s held at 350°F or higher, the faster and greater the degradation. (It doesn’t have to be heated all at once, rapid degradation can happen after a certain number of heating cycles.) When repainting an aluminum cylinder be sure to use paints that dry at room temperature.

Next, let’s discuss proper nitrous handling, especially during the refilling process. Whenever performing a nitrous refill, care must be taken with the use of safety goggles and gloves. Keep in mind that nitrous oxide while discharging out of the bottle will be at -127°F and will instantly freeze-burn any part of your body if it’s too close to the discharge flow.

The next safety item to consider is the importance of never filling a bottle past its designated capacity as defined by the tare weight on the label. Pay close attention to the label, which designates the empty weight of the bottle and valve. The label will also show the total weight of the bottle when full (filled to rated capacity). The full weight should never be exceeded since a bottle is designed to be filled to 68 percent of its capacity and must have an air bubble ratio of 32 percent to allow for expansion of the nitrous when it gets warm under room temperature conditions. For example, although it is possible to fill 12 pounds of nitrous oxide into a rated 10-pound capacity bottle, the air bubble ratio may not allow for enough expansion, and will blow the safety valve disc on the bottle valve, draining all of the nitrous into the atmosphere in order to prevent dangerous pressure buildup.

It’s also very important make sure that your nitrous bottle is recertified every five years to ensure that you are using a bottle that is safe for the high pressures under which nitrous is being contained. A date is stamped on the bottle indicating when it was last pressure tested and certified. This will ensure that you’re within certification so that you can have refills obtained legally from your local nitrous refiller or if you chose to perform this task yourself. A pressure test/certification is available at many scuba/dive shops or shops that sell compressed gases.  Expect recertification costs to be in the $30-35 range.

Finally, let’s discuss some of the latest developments in the nitrous industry that not only contribute to safer operation of nitrous systems and related components, but also ensure a safe and proper life cycle for your engine’s running parts. Safety and innovation are evident in the new Powervalve Series from NS Nitrous Supply. The new super light aluminum 300R Powervalve takes nitrous flow to a whole new generation with its .312 orifice and built-in racer safety.  This all-new valve will fit virtually any 5-20-pound nitrous bottle and outflow most old school valves, including some of the so-called Super Hi-Flo valves of yesteryear. The 500R Powervalve has the highest flow of any nitrous valve on the market today and features a spring-loaded safety pin to prevent accidental opening. With a .500 orifice, this is the new state-of-the-art innovation in bottle valves and nitrous flow.

Nitrous bottles have also evolved with the recent availability of carbon fiber 12-pound capacity bottles. Not only are carbon fiber (sometimes referred to as graphite fiber or carbon graphite) bottles incredibly light, but carbon fiber’s unique consistency also provides for a superior strength-to-weight ratio material ideal for use in the nitrous industry.  Major new innovations in plate nitrous injection technology have also firmly planted us in a new era of nitrous induction. The new annular discharge plate for SV1 carburetor applications features far superior distribution flow characteristics never before seen.  At higher hp demands, this new technology allows for a safer, more even flow of nitrous and fuel induction into an engine without suffering distribution breakdown and potential engine damage. Finally, for those running 6.71/8.71 supercharger or blower systems where heat is an ever-present entity, NS’s latest supercharger plate system greatly aids inter-cooling efficiency along with adding substantial power gains. Since nitrous is induced at -127°F as it atomizes with the fuel mixture, intake temperatures can drop as much as 75°F with this system. The resulting dense intake charge and cooling effect can significantly increase hp and torque by as much as 40 percent. Think of it as the perfect companion for more efficiency and cooling, resulting in a more reliable and safe performance combination.

We hope that some of the points in this article have provided you a better understanding of nitrous and will allow you to comfortably and safely enjoy the extra performance that has evolved from many years of technical innovations in this industry.

 

Quick Summary Points

 

* Never use an open flame to increase bottle pressure.

* Prevent nitrous burns with proper handling when refilling bottles by using gloves and goggles.

* Never overfill a bottle beyond what the levels stated on the bottle label.

* Never refill a nitrous bottle that is not within its certification date of five years.

* Never open the bottle valve without first placing the bottle in place securely.

* Always use a nitrous pressure gauge to ensure proper pressure.

* Always use a fuel pressure safety switch to ensure proper fuel flow while nitrous is engaged.

* Maintain optimal bottle pressure between 900-1,000 psi for maximum efficiency with most nitrous systems available today.

* Use nitrous and fuel pressure gauges to ensure proper ratios and engine reliability.

* Use a fuel pressure safety switch to prevent nitrous from activating if fuel flow or pressure is inadequate.

 

 

Mike Thermos was the co-founder and former owner of NOS Nitrous Oxide Systems, Inc. from 1978–2000, before selling the company to Holley Performance Products, Inc. His involvement and experience in the automotive performance arena for more than 31 years is well documented. He has continued in this tradition with the founding of his new venture, NS Nitrous Supply, five years ago. Nitroussupply.com (http://www NULL.Nitroussupply NULL.com).

 

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