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#175223 - 02/20/13 07:11 PM Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Intro:
This is not a complete MYOG project yet. I've been looking into this after Zelph (http://www.woodgaz-stove.com/) made a post on catalytic cigarette lighters over at bpl. I thought I'd share what I have done and see if anyone here has any musings or thoughts.

Background:
Catalytic cigarette lighters were made 50 years or so ago and many are still in working condition. They use platinum to auto-ignite methanol. The methanol flame is then used to light the cigarette. Alcohol stove users know methanol as "HEET" that comes in the little yellow bottle at Autoparts stores. My idea is to make something that alcohol stove users who are burning "HEET" could use to quickly ignite there stoves with no moving parts, is fairly robust and very lightweight.

Links/additional info:
The original bpl thread: http://www.backpackinglight.com/cgi-bin/...thread_id=72580

Video of a lighter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vGYUSw-azQ

How catalytic lighters work: http://www.toledo-bend.com/VCL/articles/index.asp?request=catalytic

A neat catalytic platinum/methanol experiment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSdBB1vBDKY

In my next post I will describe what I have done so far.

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#175224 - 02/20/13 07:15 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
My first attempt in incompetent detail:

1) Acquired materials: I bought surplus laboratory platinum thermocouple wire from ebay (10 inches of 0.003" dia wire for $1.75/inch). I bought a couple bottles of "HEET" from an autoparts store. I didn't even have an alcohol stove before I started, so I got an empty cat food can from my neighbor.

2) Make a fancee feast stove: I had a cheap hole punch laying around that you can rotate different size holes into position. I knew it wasn't the best hole punch to use, but it had a nice reach and I had it in my possession. Went to punch the first hole and it shattered.

3) Acquire new hole punch: Picked up a heavier duty hole punch at Joanne Fabrics. It is the same one that Skurka recommends on his MYOG fancee feast blog post.

4) Make a fancee feast stove attempt #2: Went pretty smoothly and heated up a pot of water pretty easily with methanol "HEET" as a fuel.

5) Make the catalytic electrode: I wrapped the wire around the shaft of a 3/32" drill bit to make a nice tight coil. I probably used about 2" of the wire.

6) Burn off the impurities: They say pretty explicitly for these lighters that you need to burn off any impurities (such as dirt or oils) that may have collected on the outside of the electrode). I fired up the alcohol stove again, picked up the platinum coil with a pair of tweezers and held it under the flame for a little while.

7) Test: When the stove burned out, I added some more methanol back in, took the coil by the tweezers, and waved it around above the methanol. I tried various locations. I tried burning off the impurities again, but nothing seem to happen. I saw no indication that the coil was getting hot much less igniting the methanol.

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#175225 - 02/20/13 07:28 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Attempt failure analysis:

I have done some more research on this. The catalytic reaction is methanol (CH3OH) in the presence of platinum (Pt) decomposes into formaldehyde (CH2O) and hydrogen (H2). In that regards, the oxygen fouls the catalytic reaction. Re-examining the lighter, you dip the platinum into the barrel where it is completely surrounded by methanol gas. This heats up the wire (and produces H2 which is very! combustible) but since there is no oxygen, combustion does not occur. As you pull the, now hot, catalyst out you transition through a zone of optimal oxygen/methanol/hydrogen mixture for combustion and the lighter lights up. A more confined space might be necessary to start the reaction.

I also think the thickness of the wire is an important factor. You need a high surface area to volume ratio (which means the thinner the wire the better). The reaction starts very slowly at room temperature. The small amount of heat produced needs to warm up the wire. The thicker the wire, the higher its thermal capacity is and the less it will warm up. I am using pretty darn thin wire (0.003"), but maybe it is still too thick. I might have to get some 0.001" wire.

Looking at this video on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FSdBB1vBDKY

Notice he has to heat the wire up first, I believe that is because the wire is too thick to start at room temperature. Also, notice that as more oxygen diffuses into the Erlenmeyer flask the brightness of the wire goes down. And when combustion occurs, the wire stops glowing completely. That indicates to me that oxygen fouls the catalytic reaction.

Zelph recommended I try igniting the methanol in a more confined environment and I think that is a good idea. I am going to try that next. It is also possible that the wire I have is not pure platinum. I everything I have seems to indicate it is nearly pure, but I bought it off ebay... so you never know. If I can't get this wire to work, I may try getting some new stuff (and smaller diameter) from a reputable place like Omega:

http://www.omega.com/pptst/SPPL.html?ttID2=g_lossPlatinum

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#175228 - 02/20/13 07:53 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3889
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
That is awesome!!!

I think you're on to something real cool there. I love my cat stove, but it is a bit tricky to light.
_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#175233 - 02/20/13 11:02 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
SamanthaR Offline
newbie

Registered: 02/13/13
Posts: 14
Loc: Juneau, AK
This is _very_ cool (or should that be hot?)!

I did a little Googling and found references to the use of a ball of platinum black (which is very finely powdered platinum) or a platinum sponge, both of which would have a _much_ greater surface area than even extremely fine wire. So I suspect you are on the right track in trying thinner wire but have no idea how fine you may need to go to do the trick.

-- Sam

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#175237 - 02/21/13 08:20 AM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
This is very interesting! I have a butane lighter with a platinum catalyst element that outperforms (in high wind!) any lighter I've seen. Requires just a whiff of butane. The filament is very fragile and touching it would be a mistake as it would deform but it's purpose is to keep the butane lit as an ongoing ignition source.
I had no idea methanol could be used.
I'll be following your posts intently. grin
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#175244 - 02/21/13 05:36 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Failed Attempt #2:

I decided to give it another try last night. In order to try and kickstart the reaction I tried a more confined volume (less oxygen) and higher temperature (higher reaction rate).

1) I grabbed a glass shotglass. Added a little HEET, lit it on fire with a lighter, and used the methanol flame to burn off any impurities on the wire.

2) By the time the flame burned out, the shot glass was too hot to touch (and stayed hot throughout the experiment). I added some more HEET back in. I used my tweezers and brought the coil of platinum into the shot glass. I tried several locations and got nothing... no indications the wire was getting hot. I think this is pretty damning because the shot glass was so hot it had to be kicking out quite a bit of methanol vapor.

3) I even tried dipping the coil in the liquid HEET. Nothing. Then I thought lets see if I get the wire hot before I expose it to the methanol (like the youtube video on the experiment). I lit the liquid on the coil on fire. It burned briefly and got red hot. As quickly as I could after the flame went out I brought it back in the shot glass. Again nothing.

4) Next I tried going to a smaller container. I couldn't find anything metal or glass readily available so I grabbed the cap off a 16 oz water bottle (warning do not try this at home. You should not use a meltable container to try and contain a liquid on fire). Again nothing.

5) I wanted to try adding a wick. You definitely should not use a flammable wick (much less with a plastic container) but I didn't have anything that wasn't flammable. I tore off a small piece of cardboard and stood it up in the pool of HEET. The cardboard was soon saturated in methanol. I tried various locations around the cardboard and again nothing.

I am becoming more and more convinced I got ripped off by the seller on ebay. If this wire is platinum one of these experiments should have started reacting. I am thinking about buying the thinner wire from Omega.

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#175245 - 02/21/13 05:42 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: SamanthaR]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Originally Posted By SamanthaR
This is _very_ cool (or should that be hot?)!

I did a little Googling and found references to the use of a ball of platinum black (which is very finely powdered platinum) or a platinum sponge, both of which would have a _much_ greater surface area than even extremely fine wire. So I suspect you are on the right track in trying thinner wire but have no idea how fine you may need to go to do the trick.

-- Sam


Platinum black or Platinum sponge would probably be better but that stuff runs around $1000/gram and I couldn't find any quantity for sale that was less than a couple hundred bucks. I think thin wire should work. I have seen an upclose video of the lighter where the support wire starts glowing before the sponge.

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#175246 - 02/21/13 05:45 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: Dryer]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Originally Posted By Dryer
This is very interesting! I have a butane lighter with a platinum catalyst element that outperforms (in high wind!) any lighter I've seen. Requires just a whiff of butane. The filament is very fragile and touching it would be a mistake as it would deform but it's purpose is to keep the butane lit as an ongoing ignition source.
I had no idea methanol could be used.
I'll be following your posts intently. grin


Thanks, that sounds pretty cool. Platinum acts as a catalyst with many hydrocarbons. My understanding is that methanol is the only one that will give you enough of a reaction at room temperature to ignite the fuel.

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#175247 - 02/21/13 05:50 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: billstephenson]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Originally Posted By billstephenson
That is awesome!!!

I think you're on to something real cool there. I love my cat stove, but it is a bit tricky to light.


Thanks! I sure hope I can get this project to work. I don't really have any intentions of manufacturing these like a cottage maker. I am just fascinated by the science. It would be cool if other people found these useful enough to make one for themselves. Of course before that happens I got to get it to work smile

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#175251 - 02/21/13 08:56 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3889
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
I was going to mention using a wick, so I'm glad to see I was on the right track for testing.

The trick with those lighters may be that the entire tube is lined with a wicking material, so the vapor inside will be highly concentrated. You might try playing with a cigar tube with just a few drops of HEET, and shake it up before exposing the platinum to the inside of the tube. It wouldn't burn long, but if it lights you're a step closer.

Some craft felt might make a good wick to line it with.


Edited by billstephenson (02/21/13 08:58 PM)
_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#175262 - 02/22/13 12:15 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: billstephenson]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
My butane/platinum lighter has no wicking material. But if it will help, the filament is probably no thicker than .001" and is zig-zag'd across the flame outlet about 4 times. Stretched out it's probably 1/2" long, soldered across a typical butane blue torch outlet. The second the piezo spark ignites the butane, the filament takes over and glows white hot, keeping the butane lit. It may be the thinner the wire, the quicker the catalyst action happens. You need about as much as a model engine glow plugs (also platinum/tungsten) worth to do what you want.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glow_plug_(model_engine)



Edited by Dryer (02/22/13 12:18 PM)
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#175269 - 02/22/13 02:35 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: Dryer]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3889
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Originally Posted By Dryer
My butane/platinum lighter has no wicking material. But if it will help, the filament is probably no thicker than .001" and is zig-zag'd across the flame outlet about 4 times.


I wonder if sanding the wire with an ultra fine sand paper would help. Scratches would add surface area and it may remove some impurities on the surface. You'd want to clean the wire with HEET afterwards, and burn it off again. Might be worth a try.

This is one of those mystical things about chemicals that just amaze me. Those old lighters are pretty darn cool. I have no doubt they'll work as advertised.
_________________________
--

"You want to go where?"



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#175276 - 02/22/13 05:43 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: billstephenson]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
Thought about this some more. A model engine glow plug would provide a coil of platinum catalyst, plus allow battery ignition to get things going.

Even better might be the mantles for Jone or Zippo hand warmers. Wafting vapor from lighter fluid is all it takes for the platinum salts in the mantles to hold an ember. Cheap too.

_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#175277 - 02/22/13 06:03 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: Dryer]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Yeah, the model engine glow plug would be an interesting idea. I may have to get one to see what they look like. It sounds like the zippo lighters have platinum black inside them. Have you ever taken one apart?

Sanding the wire could help Bill, but this is pretty thin stuff and the 0.001" will be even thinner. I can't imagine your going to increase surface area much by doing that, but you might weaken the wire considerably.

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#175283 - 02/22/13 09:22 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3889
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
The 3M ultrafine sandpapers are pretty close to a polish, so the scratches will be microscopic, but they're still there.

I don't know the properties of platinum. If it's soft, like silver or gold, then sanding it even with ultra fine will take material off in a noticeable way. If it's harder, like steel or titanium, it will barely polish it.

The increase in surface area might not mean much, but the sharpened and jagged peak edges between the scratches might react better and help heat the wire to glowing.

A battery powered glow plug type stove lighter is a cool idea too. For that matter, a small piezo might do the trick. Still wouldn't be as cool as the Catalytic though. That's like magic.:D


Edited by billstephenson (02/22/13 09:30 PM)
_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#175293 - 02/23/13 12:31 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
Not the zippo lighters. The HAND warmers. Jone and Zippo make hand warmers that have platinum catalysts.
http://www.zippo.com/product.aspx?id=1025148

Glow plugs go for about $8 You attach a battery to make it how, then the fuel keeps it going inside the engine combustion chamber.

I was (still am, somewhat) a manufacturing jeweler for a lot of years. Platinum, Palladium, Rhodium are the three platinum group metals used in jewelry. Platinum, I believe, is the only one that will act as a catalyst. It is denser than gold, and has double gold's melting point. Unlike gold, it's welded, not soldered. It can be soft, or drawn to work harden, as in the wire you have. It doesn't sound like you got platinum wire. I'd suggest the thinnest wire possible (a glow plug, for example...use the whole plug or steal the wire ) or a platinum salts impregnated mantle, like a hand warmer. To me, a glow plug gives you the option of electrical ignition. I don't know if a piezo sparker is enough to ignite alcohol...never tried it.
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#175328 - 02/25/13 11:48 AM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: Dryer]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Sorry Dryer, I meant to say "warmer" not "lighter".

Are you saying you can't solder platinum or that it is just typically welded? I've been thinking about how to mount my little coil into something for use during backpacking. I was thinking of mounting it to a structure using solder or JB Weld since I don't have access to a spot welder. It would be good to know if I shouldn't bother trying to solder it.

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#175329 - 02/25/13 12:02 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
In jewelry, silver and gold are "soldered". In the case of 14K gold, 14k solder is used which has a melting temp just below that of the gold you are soldering. It's not lead solder, like most folks think of solder. Platinum is actually welded as there is no known solder that handles that high a melting point...all the base metals would boil off. Working with platinum is tricky as it can ruin your torch and casting equipment because of the temps involved. So......that little model engine glow plug might simply be threaded into your stove somehow with the coil exposed to the flame area. Otherwise, if you use wire, a mechanical connection (tiny screw terminals or crimp on). If you go with a plantinum salts impregnated mantel, it just needs to be suspended over the flame area. Wouldn't mess with epoxy or solder...won't hold up to flame heat.
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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#175336 - 02/25/13 05:49 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
billstephenson Offline
Moderator

Registered: 02/07/07
Posts: 3889
Loc: Ozark Mountains in SW Missouri
Welding wire that thin has to be tricky.

I've seen pinch type connectors for thin wire that will hold them in place and you can fasten those to something else.

Here's another way using a spring.
_________________________
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"You want to go where?"



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#175339 - 02/25/13 08:19 PM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: billstephenson]
BZH Offline
member

Registered: 01/26/11
Posts: 848
Loc: Torrance, CA
Originally Posted By billstephenson
Welding wire that thin has to be tricky.


Yeah I would guess so. Based on Dryer's comments I guess these old lighters must be welded.

Originally Posted By billstephenson

I've seen pinch type connectors for thin wire that will hold them in place and you can fasten those to something else.

Here's another way using a spring.


This just like one idea I had. If you take a large safety pin and cut off the end with the metal clasp and pointy part... the opposite end is just a single coil. You could mount the little platinum coil inside that coil from the safety pin and it would pinch down on the wire like is shown in that paper. Getting the little coil inside there might be difficult.

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#175344 - 02/26/13 09:08 AM Re: Lightweight Catalytic Alcohol Stove Lighter [Re: BZH]
Dryer Offline
Moderator

Registered: 12/05/02
Posts: 3571
Loc: Texas
If you are mounting wire in an aluminum stove, you simply drill two tiny (diameter of your wire) holes side by side (couple millimeters apart) and thread the wire in one, and out the other. Friction will hold it in. You aren't looking for an electrical connection. If mounting a glow plug, under drill the hole and thread the thing in so you can clip a battery to the terminal. You might get lucky if the glowplug heats to above the alcohol flash point. Model engine fuel happens to be methanol with a little dab of nitro-methane for some punch, plus castor oil.
_________________________
paul, texas KD5IVP

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