Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous Oxide Guide (2022)

Airgas Specialty Products is a major supplier of nitrous oxide for medical, food-grade, and industrial purposes in the largest network of nitrous oxide manufacturing plants in all of North  

America. This nitrous oxide is then shipped all over the world to meet a vast array of uses. 

But what should you know about nitrous oxide? What is its chemical composition, what are its applications, and how can users take the proper precautions to stay safe while using this colorless gas?

Here’s what you should know about nitrous oxide. 

All About Nitrous Oxide 

Nitrous oxide, also known as N2O was first synthesized in 1772 by a man named Joseph Priestley, but it wasn’t put to use until 1800 when H. Davy discovered the gas’s analgesic or pain-relieving properties. Several dozen years later in 1844, nitrous oxide was first used for anesthesia during surgeries.

Those who have spent extended time in the dentist’s chair know that this colorless gas has a somewhat sweet odor and taste that reduces a person’s sensitivity to pain and gives a short period of hysteria, euphoria, or even laughter—thus the moniker “laughing gas.” 

N2O shouldn’t be confused with nitric oxide (NO), which only has one nitrogen atom, or nitrogen dioxide, which has one nitrogen atom but two oxygen atoms. There isn’t exactly an abundance of N2O in our atmosphere, with only 0.3 parts per million (ppm) naturally found in the atmosphere. 

How Nitrous Oxide Is Produced 

Nitrous oxide is a naturally-occurring chemical compound. When organically produced, the main source of nitrous oxide in soils that house natural vegetation, from microbes that break down nitrogen in the soil. Tropical rainforest soils are a major contributor to natural sources of nitrous oxide thanks to high levels of nutrients and peak moisture levels. Soil is responsible for creating 6.6 million tonnes of nitrous oxide each year. Other natural sources of nitrous oxide include: 

  • Atmospheric deposition 
  • Human waste 
  • Oceans 
  • Chemical reactions in the atmosphere 

While nitrous oxide is made in nature, the nitrous oxide that is used in medical offices, in manufacturing plants, and on race tracks is manufactured.  

For industrial applications, nitrous oxide is produced via an exothermic reaction, where ammonia nitrate and water are thermally decomposed in a hot solution, somewhere between 482° Fahrenheit and 491° Fahrenheit. 

Uses of Nitrous Oxide 

Nitrous oxide may be used in dentistry when getting a tooth pulled or a cavity filled, but that’s far from its only purpose. This gas has a number of practical applications outside the dentist’s office, which include: 

  • As medical anesthesia and analgesia 
  • As a food processing propellant for pressurized food dispensers 
  • As a component of semiconductor manufacturing 
  • As a tool in analytical chemistry, studying other types of compounds 
  • As a component in chemical manufacturing 
  • As a fuel injector in auto racing engines 

In auto racing, N2O is injected into the air intake, which provides the engine with additional oxygen. The engine subsequently uses this oxygen to burn more fuel per stroke and maximize the power of the engine.  

When used in dental and medical anesthesia, nitrous oxide is combined with oxygen because pure nitrous oxide can cause asphyxiation and respiratory arrest since it displaces air. It’s also denatured (diluted) when used for auto racing to help prevent inhalation and limit the risk of asphyxiation. 

What’s more, nitrous oxide is also used: 

  • As a refrigerant 
  • As a tool to detect leaks 
  • As a chemical reagent 
  • As a performance-enhancing additive used in combustion engines 
  • As a synthetic fertilizer in agricultural applications 

Safety Recommendations for Storing and Using Nitrous Oxide 

One thing that’s important for those who rely on N2O for their operations to keep in mind is that nitrous oxide is used as a recreational drug. Inhaled by discharging nitrous oxide chambers, nitrous oxide is used as a drug for its euphoric properties and for the feeling of floating or being intoxicated or high.  

Since it’s misused for recreational purposes and because it can lead to asphyxiation, vitamin B12 deficiencies, nerve damage, and anemia, the gas must be properly handled to avoid interception or a dangerous leak.

Those using nitrous oxide for their operations should adhere to the following protocols for safety purposes: 

  • Prevent theft by storing nitrous oxide in approved containers in a secure area only accessible to authorized personnel. 
  • Keep and track inventory of full and empty nitrous oxide containers, and follow up on any potential inventory discrepancies. 
  • Report nitrous oxide theft to the authorities. 
  • Only use denatured nitrous oxide as an engine-enhancing substance to prevent abuse. 
  • Educate and train employees on the dangers and safe, secure handling of nitrous oxide. 
  • Distribute nitrous oxide safety data sheets (SDSs) and other safe handling practices to anyone who will be using nitrous oxide. 

Additionally, users should be mindful of taking the appropriate engineering controls, which means only using nitrous oxide where there is adequate ventilation, either with process enclosures or local exhaust ventilation to limit exposure to airborne contaminants.  

When using nitrous oxide, workers should check emissions levels to see that they are in line with all emissions compliance standards. Facilities may choose to use fume scrubbers, filters, or other engineering solutions to keep emissions to safe, low levels.  

Users of nitrous oxide should thoroughly wash their face and hands after handling nitrous oxide or any other chemical products, especially before eating, drinking, smoking, or using the restroom. They should also take care to don approved safety eyewear with side shields and chemical-resistant gloves.  

Your Dependable Nitrous Oxide Supplier 

For decades, Airgas Specialty Products has been the leading supplier of nitrous oxide and other controlled gas substances. With the capability to provide bulk nitrous oxide across the country, Airgas Specialty Products can fill cylinders of all sizes, from six to sixty pounds, as well as Y cylinders up to 600 pounds, and for high-volume applications, in tube trailers that can contain as much as 25,000 pounds.  

With delivery available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, as well as safe handling training available, we’ll maintain your supply of nitrous oxide and help keep you safe. To learn more, contact our friendly team of professionals today!