eli5 How Does A catalytic burner work?


I recently bought a Zippo hand warmer, but can nowhere find the real science behind the process. can someone explain the chemical process, the byproducts of the burning, and an equation of the process? Thank you so much!

In: 1

The reaction is the same as in a regular Zippo lighter. Hydrocarbons (lighter fluid) reacts with oxygen from the air to form carbon dioxide and steam. However this process requires some energy to start but will then generate enough energy to be self sufficient. However with the hand warmers which have to burn colder they use platinum as a catalyst. This is the same technique used in cars to get rid of remaining fuel and sot in the exhaust. The platinum is able to help the reaction take place and reduces the temperatures required for it to start. You therefore have a relatively cold heater compared to a regular lighter.

A catalyst lowers the “threshold” for a reaction to occur. For example, burning a fuel typically requires >800°C ish temperatures before it gets going. It requires a certain energy level to start reacting. A catalyst, by definition, lowers this minimum level, e.g. it might start burning happily at just 400°C instead. The reaction is still the same, for hydrocarbon fuels it’s generally fuel>h2o+co2, the catalyst is not part of the start or end product(again, by definition), although it may be involved in some steps in the middle.

As for *exactly how* it works, I don’t know. But I do suspect though,like anything chemistry related at the most basic level, it’s gonna boil down to horribly complex quantum mechanics.