The Butane Taste Lie
Butane is this molecule C4H10 four carbons, ten hydrogens. Let's take a look at the flame produced by burning this molecule.
First the hottest part of the flame is the blue at the base (temperature is proportional to the frequency of light). Blue light has a higher frequency (shorter wavelength) than red light.
The blue is caused by the burning (oxidizing) of the hydrogen. These guys love to get together and make water (H2O), that’s why we have so much water on this planet. They do this quickly so the heat they produce causes a high temperature. If you know about entropy (energy, time and equilibrium) this makes sense.
So, just above the blue the hydrogen is gone. Since butane is C4H10, it is impossible for any butane to be here. So, the butane taste is also impossible.
Carbon molecules are the only remaining component of the butane. Now these guys aren’t as anxious to go hang out with some oxygen. In the presence of some heat they are good to go.
Think about it, you never really see any hydrogen hanging around. It has usually hooked up with some other elements, well and it tends to float off. But, carbon, take a look at a pencil, some graphite, the carbon fiber everything, diamonds …
We actually get to burn (oxidize) carbon twice. The first time we get carbon monoxide, the second time carbon dioxide. Burning carbon produces much more energy, but since it is not as anxious to go hang out with oxygen, the reaction time is slower and the temperature doesn’t get as high.
So you say, well I taste something. Yes you are, my friend, but it is NOT butane, agreed. You taste incompletely burned carbon.
A conventional lighter flame sends only butane in to the flame. So the only opportunity for butane to meet up with some oxygen is at the flame surface (outer edges). The blue at the base is really just a relatively thin skin of color and in the center is butane that hasn’t gotten a chance to meet some oxygen yet.
So, lets changes the rules of engagement! Let’s use a torch lighter. Now this uses what is called an injector. Simply, this some ports (orifices) that use some of Mr. Bernoulli’s stuff to add air, which is approximately 20-21% oxygen, to the butane before it meets the flame.
What this does for you is nice. The butane doesn’t have to wait until it gets to the flame edge to meet oxygen. Oxygen is hanging out right next to the butane. They just need to chemically say hello.
Then, Bam, exothermic reaction! Butane is the limiting reactant. Which means all of the hydrogens to hook up with an oxygen and all of the carbons get to have a 3 way. Lucky guys! And, some oxygens are still hanging around saying “where’s mine?”.
Now, since everyone got to party all at once, it’s starts getting hot in here, ~ 2100 degrees F. Typical lighter flame ~ 1800 degrees F.
More importantly, all the butane becomes carbon dioxide, water and heat. Carbon dioxide is a tasteless, odorless gas. You are breathing some right now. And pure water vapor is tasteless and odorless. We call it humidity.
So properly combusted butane provides an extremely portable, pure, odorless, and tasteless heat source.
Knowledge is … well knowledge.