Nitromethane: An Ultimate Guide to Properties, Uses and Synthesis

Introduction: What is Nitromethane?

Nitromethane is a highly versatile and reactive chemical compound with the chemical formula CH3NO2. It is classified as an organic nitro compound, characterized by the presence of a nitro group (-NO2) in its molecular structure. Nitromethane is a pale yellow, oily liquid with a distinct odor. It possesses several notable properties, including high polarity, solubility in water and many organic solvents, and a relatively high boiling point and density. These characteristics contribute to its wide range of applications in various industries.

Nitromethane Bottle

Nitromethane Chemical and Physical Properties

Nitromethane possesses a range of notable chemical and physical properties. Chemically, nitromethane is a highly polar compound due to the presence of a nitro group (-NO2) in its molecular structure. Nitromethane demonstrates solubility in a variety of solvents, including both polar and nonpolar organic solvents. Some common solvents in which nitromethane readily dissolves include:

  • Water: Nitromethane is moderately soluble in water, forming a clear solution. The solubility of nitromethane in water is approximately 10.5 g per 100 ml at 20 °C (68 °F).
  • Ethanol and Methanol: Nitromethane is soluble in both ethanol and methanol, which are polar solvents commonly used in laboratory and industrial applications.
  • Acetone: Nitromethane exhibits good solubility in acetone, a widely used organic solvent in various industries.
  • Toluene and Xylene: Nitromethane is soluble in toluene and xylene, which are nonpolar solvents frequently employed in chemical synthesis and industrial processes.
  • Dichloromethane (Methylene chloride): Nitromethane is soluble in dichloromethane, a versatile organic solvent widely used in laboratories.
Nitromethane Formula

These are just a few examples of solvents in which nitromethane can dissolve. The solubility of nitromethane in different solvents is primarily influenced by its polar nature and the ability of the solvent to interact with the polar nitro group in its structure.

It is important to note that the solubility of nitromethane in a particular solvent can vary depending on factors such as temperature, concentration, and the presence of other solutes. Proper handling and precautionary measures should always be followed when working with nitromethane and its solvent solutions.

Physically, nitromethane is a pale yellow, oily liquid with a distinct odor. It has a relatively high boiling point of 101.2 °C (214.2 °F) and a melting point of -29.2 °C (-20.6 °F). Its density is approximately 1.14 g per cubic centimeter, making it denser than water. This higher density can be attributed to the presence of nitrogen and oxygen atoms in its structure.

Pure Nitroethane Liquid

Furthermore, nitromethane exhibits a significant energy content, contributing to its use as a fuel additive. It possesses a high calorific value, which means it releases a large amount of energy when burned. This property is beneficial for applications in the automotive racing industry, where nitromethane is added to methanol fuel blends to increase power output and improve combustion efficiency in high-performance engines.

Overall, the chemical and physical properties of nitromethane, including its polarity, solubility, boiling point, density, and energy content, contribute to its diverse applications in various industries.

Nitromethane Applications in Various Industries

Nitromethane finds extensive applications in various industries due to its versatile properties and reactivity. Here are some key industries where nitromethane plays a significant role:

Automotive Racing

Nitromethane is widely utilized in the automotive racing industry as a fuel additive. When added to methanol fuel mixtures, nitromethane increases the power output and improves the combustion efficiency of high-performance engines. This results in enhanced engine performance and increased acceleration, making it a popular choice in drag racing and other high-speed competitions.

Dragrace Car With Nitromethane Fuel

Industrial Manufacturing

Nitromethane serves as a solvent in diverse industrial manufacturing processes. It is commonly used in the production of pharmaceuticals, perfumes, dyes, and pesticides. Its solvency properties make it an effective medium for dissolving and extracting various organic and inorganic compounds during the manufacturing process.

Explosives and Pyrotechnics

Nitromethane is a vital component in the production of explosives and pyrotechnic formulations. Its high energy content and reactivity make it suitable for use in explosive mixtures. Nitromethane is often combined with other chemicals to create explosive materials used in mining, demolition, and military applications.

Aerospace and Rocket Propulsion

Due to its high energy content, nitromethane is used in the aerospace industry as a component in rocket propellants. Its ability to release oxygen during combustion contributes to the efficient and powerful propulsion systems used in rockets and missiles.

Organic Synthesis

Nitromethane serves as a valuable reagent in organic synthesis laboratories. It is used in the production of pharmaceutical intermediates, such as amino acids and nitroalkanes. Nitromethane is also employed as a reactant in various organic reactions, including condensations, reductions, and alkylations, to synthesize a wide range of organic compounds.

Laboratory Research

Nitromethane finds applications in scientific research and experimentation. Its reactivity and solvency make it a useful solvent for conducting various chemical reactions and analyses in the laboratory.

The diverse range of applications for nitromethane highlights its importance in multiple industries. Its unique properties, such as high energy content, solvency, and reactivity, make it a valuable compound for fuel enhancement, industrial processes, explosives, aerospace, organic synthesis, and laboratory research.

Nitromethane Synthesis: Methods and Reactions

The Kolbe procedure is the widely recognized and most frequently used approach to enabling the production of nitromethane. This technique involves blending an alkali agent – consisting of elements like ammonium, sodium carbonate, or potassium carbonate – with an aqueous solution of chloroacetic acid until the acid has been completely neutralized. After that, an aqueous solution of sodium nitrite is incorporated into the reaction mixture, and it is then heated until the distillation of nitromethane begins. At 80-85 °C, when carbon dioxide bubbles first start to come forth, the heating should be immediately discontinued. Nevertheless, the reaction persists without any subsequent heating, and the formed nitromethane is removed from the mixture in the form of watery oil droplets through distillation, with the temperature rising to 100 °C eventually. One of the demerits of this process is the alkaline environment that is generated due to the reaction, which leads to a decrease in the yield of nitromethane, not exceeding 40% of the theory.

Kolbe nitromethane synthesis from hloroacetic acid

A process that has the potential to take the place of the Kolbe Procedure is one wherein dimethy sulfate and sodium nitrite are heated in the presence of water, which has both a simple material foundation and generates an extremely pure nitromethane that can be utilized in clandestine laboratories for extended periods. This approach is conducted by heating a combination of the abovementioned components and an alkali agent in two distinct steps. During the first step, wherein three-fourths of the designated amount of nitromethane and sodium monomethyl sulfate structures comes to fruition, the temperature must not surpass 85-100 °C and the nitromethane should be distilled off. Subsequently, in order to activate the reactions between sodium monomethyl sulfate and sodium nitrite as well as the formation of nitromethane, the mixture should be exposed to a temperature ranging from 110 to 120 °C, occasionally all the way up to 160-200 °C with perpetual distillation.

Dimethy sulfate to nitromethane synthesis
Synthesis of Nitroethane

Safety Precautions and Handling Guidelines for Nitromethane

When working with nitromethane, it is crucial to follow proper safety precautions to ensure personal safety and prevent accidents. Here are some detailed guidelines for handling nitromethane:


Nitromethane should be stored in a cool, well-ventilated area away from sources of ignition, heat, and direct sunlight. It is recommended to store it in a tightly sealed container made of a compatible material, such as glass or high-density polyethylene (HDPE).

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Always wear appropriate personal protective equipment when handling nitromethane. This includes safety goggles, chemical-resistant gloves, a lab coat or protective clothing, and closed-toe shoes. It is important to choose gloves and protective clothing that are chemically resistant to nitromethane.


Work with nitromethane in a well-ventilated area or use local exhaust ventilation to ensure the removal of vapors. Avoid working with nitromethane in confined spaces where vapor concentration can build up.

Ignition Sources

Nitromethane is highly flammable. Keep all potential sources of ignition, such as open flames, sparks, and electrical equipment, away from the storage and handling areas. Use explosion-proof equipment in areas where flammable vapors may be present.

Incompatible Materials

Nitromethane can react violently with strong oxidizing agents, such as concentrated acids, peroxides, and strong bases. Keep nitromethane away from these substances to prevent hazardous reactions. Also, avoid contact with incompatible materials like strong reducing agents, reactive metals, and alkali metals.

Spill and Leak Response

In case of a spill or leak, immediately contain the area and prevent the spread of nitromethane. Absorb small spills with inert materials, such as sand or vermiculite, and transfer them to a suitable container for disposal. For larger spills or leaks, contact the appropriate authorities and follow established emergency procedures.

Handling and Transfer

When handling nitromethane, use appropriate chemical-resistant equipment such as funnels, pumps, and containers made of compatible materials. Ensure proper grounding and bonding of equipment during transfer operations to minimize the risk of static electricity discharge.

First Aid and Medical Attention

In case of skin or eye contact, immediately rinse with plenty of water for at least 15 minutes. Remove contaminated clothing and seek medical attention. If nitromethane is ingested, do not induce vomiting and seek immediate medical assistance.

It is important to refer to safety data sheets (SDS) and follow the specific guidelines provided by the manufacturer for the safe handling, storage, and disposal of nitromethane. Adhering to these safety precautions and handling guidelines helps ensure the safe and responsible use of nitromethane.

Comparing Nitromethane vs. Nitroethane

Nitromethane and nitroethane are both organic nitro compounds with similar chemical structures. However, they differ in terms of physical and chemical properties. Nitromethane has a higher boiling point, density, and energy content compared to nitroethane. Nitroethane, on the other hand, is less reactive and has a milder odor. The applications and synthesis methods of these two compounds also vary.


Nitromethane is a valuable chemical compound with diverse applications in various industries. Its unique properties make it suitable for use as a fuel additive, solvent, rocket propellant, and laboratory reagent. Proper safety precautions should always be followed when handling nitromethane due to its hazardous nature. Understanding the properties, uses, synthesis methods, and safety guidelines of nitromethane is essential for its effective and responsible utilization.