The Platinum Catalyst Use In A Vintage Lighter

[Ben Krasnow] has an inimitable knack for choosing the most interesting concepts for his experiments. We’re sure it’s a combination of base knowledge and epic-curiosity. This time around he’s showing off a vintage cigarette lighter whose quirk is not needing to be “struck” to produce a flame. It’s a catalytic lighter that uses platinum to ignite methanol vapors.

The concept shown in the video below is platinum’s catalyst properties with some types of flammable gasses. The image above shows the cap of the lighter which includes a protective cage around a hunk of fine platinum powder known as platinum black. It is suspended by platinum wire and as the hydrogen passes by the reaction causes the platinum black and wire to glow red-hot.

This simple, quick experiment fills in our own knowledge gaps. We were already familiar with the role that catalytic converters play in automobiles; consuming any unburned hydrocarbons before they exit a vehicle’s exhaust system. We also know the these devices are targets for thieves seeking the platinum (and other metals like palladium and rhodium) found inside. Now we know exactly how catalytic converters work and the integral role that platinum plays in the process. All thanks to [Ben’s] demonstration of how this lighter works.

Now, if you wear a platinum wedding band and your hand passes a jet of hydrogen are you likely to get burned?

13 thoughts on “The Platinum Catalyst Use In A Vintage Lighter

  1. I’m guessing the larger mass and diameter of the platinum of a wedding ring would conduct heat away, and not reach combustion temperature.

    But you didn’t say how large of a jet it would be…

    I suspect the platinum in jewelry is alloyed for strength and scratch resistance.

    1. quick google and a few jewelers say Pt jewelry ranges from ‘cheap’ alloys of 58.5% Pt the remainder being Cu and Co. To 90% pure Pt in expensive pieces.
      I wonder how pure the plating must be in order to catalyze reactions.

      1. This. Catalytic coatings are very craggy, made to have maximal surface area. A polished ring is the exact opposite.

        It might get at least noticeably warm. Or not. Anyone care to check? ;)

        And I’ve never seen self-lighting devices of this type before. So thanks for featuring this. I love newly discovering old tech.

          1. If you had a really nasty stream of hydrogen gas (say around 4100K) you could get it to heat up quite nastily. Then vaporize.

            STP, I think the best you could hope for was a little mosture.

    1. Yes.
      The Germans used silver mesh to catalytically decompose hydrogen peroxide in the Me-163. There are/were a number of torpedos that used hydrogen peroxide as the main fuel to spin turbines. A few WWII/cold war era subs sank due to fires in the armory when the fuel ignited in the sub.

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