The wires glow red hot and suddenly a clear blue flame appears.
This is an example of Heterogeneous Catalysis whereby methanol vapours are oxidised to methanal in air on the surface of the solid catalyst (platinum wires) which in turn releases energy in the form of heat and ignites the excess methanol vapours.
The reaction is:
2CH3OH + O2 → 2HCHO + 2H2O
This particular catalytic lighter is circa 1930. It has very fine platinum wires and black platinum ball that get poisoned very easily if other alcohols are used instead of industrial or laboratory grade methanol. To clean impurities and using it for the first time heat the wires on the methanol flame for a few seconds.
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