Nitrous Oxide

NITROUS OXIDE (N2O) is a compound of two very abundant elements on Earth, which also compose most of the gases in the Earth's atmosphere—oxygen and nitrogen. It is a colorless gas with a sweetish odor. It is known by the common name of laughing gas. It occurs naturally, and has been implicated as a potentially significant agent in global warming. Joseph Priestly first synthesized it in the 1770s. Dentists and physicians have used it as a mild anesthetic for decades. It was first used in dentistry in 1844, and more commonly after 1860. It is still used in dentistry for minor oral surgery procedures.

Many uses have been found for nitrous oxide. Because it causes people to laugh, it has been used for public and private entertainment, with no lasting physical effects. The psychological effects may last for a few minutes. The physical effects include disorientation and imbalance, vision disturbance, throbbing or pulsating hearing with hallucinations that can be auditory, visual, or both, and a deepening of the voice while the gas is being exhaled. Several dangers associated with breathing nitrous oxide include physical imbalance that can cause injury from falling. If breathed though a bag over the head, death can occur. Frostbite from the rapid expansion of the gas from a compressed state can also occur. It is also used as a propellant in cans of whipped cream, and has other foodservice uses. While not a bactericide, it can act as a bacteriostatic, which prevents the growth of bacteria without leaving an odor. The dairy industry uses it as a foaming agent because it dissolves easily in the fatty cells found in buttery cream.

Deep-sea diving can kill if decompression sickness (the bends) occurs. The cause of decompression sickness is nitrogen in high-pressure environments. Bubbles of nitrogen gas form in the fatty tissue of the body, and if not expelled slowly, can cause terrible pain and death. Nitrous oxide can help prevent the bends in deep-sea divers. Nitrous oxide allows nitrogen in the blood stream to return to the tissues without causing as many bubbles. The sport of car racing uses nitrous oxide as a booster propellant. The compound is injected into the air intake of the car. Nitrous oxide is not flammable, but it does cause more oxygen to enter into the combustion chamber so that a richer and more powerful mixture of fuel is ignited. The firing of the mixture increases the power of the engine. Nitrous oxide is easily obtained and has been abused by some. As a result, many states have attempted to criminalize its abuse.

Guide to Alternative Fuels

Guide to Alternative Fuels

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