What Is Lighter Fuel Made Of?
Hand-held lighters use lighter fluid for fuel. Depending on the brand, lighter fluids may contain different mixtures of fuels; all lighter fluids, however, are mixtures of hydrocarbons that react with oxygen to form CO2 and water through combustion.
Lighter fluids typically contain butane, naphtha or kerosene; naphtha is itself a mixture of hydrocarbons, and some lighter fluids may contain propane as well. The product details or material safety data sheet for a given brand will generally specify which of these ingredients it contains.
All of the compounds in lighter fluid are hydrocarbons derived from crude oil or other fossil fuels. In a sense, then, the energy stored in the chemical bonds in lighter fluid is actually solar energy stored in chemical form by plants many millions of years ago.
Since the carbon-oxygen bonds in carbon dioxide and hydrogen-oxygen bonds in water have lower energy and are more stable than the bonds in the hydrocarbon molecule, when the hydrocarbons in lighter fluid are oxidized energy is released as heat and light. This reaction is spontaneous but has an activation energy barrier, meaning there's a certain amount of energy you have to put in to kick-start the reaction.
Based in San Diego, John Brennan has been writing about science and the environment since 2006. His articles have appeared in "Plenty," "San Diego Reader," "Santa Barbara Independent" and "East Bay Monthly." Brennan holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of California, San Diego.
- lighter image by Sergey Shlyaev from Fotolia.com