Nitrous oxide sensor

Nitrous Oxide Injection

Nitrous oxide injection is an easy and highly cost effective performance modification, yet it is also one of the most misunderstood. And these misunderstandings usually result in very expensive engine damage. Vendors selling nitrous systems tend to gloss over the details and some of the systems lack basic safety features.

How Nitrous Oxide Increases Performance

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is a colorless and almost odorless gas. Joseph Priestly, an English scientist and clergyman, discovered nitrous oxide in 1793. Following Priestley's discovery, Humphrey Davy of the Pneumatic Institute in Bristol, England, experimented with nitrous oxide and noted its anesthetic effects. Today nitrous oxide is widely used as a dental anesthetic, an engine performance enhancer, and for processing in the semiconductor industry.

Only limited information is available on nitrous oxide relative to automotive performance. Recommended books available on Amazon.com include: Nitrous Oxide Injection by Dave Vizard (1987), Nitrous Oxide Injection Guide by Joe Pettitt (1998), Supercharging, Turbocharging and Nitrous Oxide Performance by Earl Davis (2002), and The Nitrous Oxide High Performance Manual by Trevor Langfield (2006). The early book by Dave Vizard, who is a knowledgeable automotive engineer, includes extensive background information on nitrous oxide chemistry but is somewhat out-of-date as far as applications.

Nitrous oxide was first used as an engine performance enhancer on World War II aircraft. The original NACA (predecessor of NASA) wartime report, Nitrous Oxide Supercharging of an Aircraft-Engine Cylinder, is interesting reading but not directly applicable to modern practice. Tests were done on a single cylinder from a V12 Allison aircraft engine. Nitrous oxide was injected as a gas in all tests, not in the liquid form commonly used today.

One of the major misconceptions about nitrous oxide relates to whether it is an oxidizer or fuel. While nitrous oxide is an oxidizer from a chemical reaction standpoint, it can also be used as a monopropellant fuel. An recent paper on this subject, Nitrous Oxide Catalytic Decomposition for Space Applications, discusses the use of nitrous oxide in satellite propulsion systems. Energy release from thermal decomposition of nitrous oxide is used for a satellite thruster. The paper discusses problems encountered due to temperatures in excess of 2700F generated during thermal decomposition. This sheds some light on what happens to the pistons and spark plugs in an automotive engine when a nitrous system runs lean (not enough fuel).

In an automotive engine, thermal decomposition of nitrous oxide at combustion temperatures releases significant energy and creates free oxygen. The free oxygen can then react with supplemental fuel and release further energy. Injecting the nitrous is generally the easy part - the practical difficulties lie with matching the correct amount of supplemental fuel and controlling the system in a safe manner.

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