Introduction: Identifying Petroleum Spirits As Liquid Fuel for Lighters.

by tonytran2015 (Melbourne, Australia)

There are times when we have to buy lighter or stove fuel when traveling overseas. However, there has been no system of internarional names for fuels. At those times, local guidance is highly valued, but we have to know the nearly international names to ask for the fuel and have own methods of identification for own peace of mind. For example, people in Australia may have problem overseas when asking for Shellite !

Petroleum spirit is also known as white gas (in North America), white spirit (outside the UK) or Coleman fuel (another trade name by another company?).

We use the following method to check all its features to identify it :

Step 1: A/- Recommended Usage

Recommended usage, as printed on containers, should be similar to those of the required fuel: The liquid should be suitable as a liquid fluid for lighters, a liquid fuel for some camping stoves or as a mild solvent to clean organic stains on metals.

Beware that toluene (paint thinner) should not be used as a fuel. It may look like petroleum spirit but it is toxic as a fuel due to its contents of ring (aromatic) compounds.

Any evaporation or combustion residue may point to the existence of additives in the fuel. Aircraft fuel may have antifungal additives.

Step 2: ​b/- Physical Properties

Figures: Density can be easily measured with an electronic kitchen scale. Refractive index is measured with a ruler and a laser.

b1- It should be a colourless, transparent liquid.

b2- Its refractive index is 1.21 (from my own measurement of the fluid in the bottle in the figure), being slightly less than that of water at 1.33. Refractive index is easy to measure now. A bottle of Shellite will not magnify a printed page as much as an identical bottle containing water.

b3- Its density should be 0.67 with an uncertainty of +/-0.02 (from my own measurement of the fluid in the bottle in the figure, at 13 degrees C).

b4/- From internet data, Shellite has a freeze point lower than -30 °C, and a boiling point of 47 °C.

The boiling point (of less than 100°C) of a flammable liquid like petroleum liquid can be safely measured by placing a small drop of it inside a small tin cap floating in hot water at known high temperature and observing its evaporation pattern. Some people do comparative tests by placing one drop of each liquid at the center of a thin metal tongue. One end of the tongue is heated with a flame and the two drops of two liquid are heated up at the same rate. Relative boiling temperatures are then found.

Step 3: ​c/- Chemical Properties

Figure: Water droplet pulls itself into a sphere.

c1/- It is not mixable with water. Place few drops of it on a metal foil and let it spread around. Then place a drop of water on top of this thin layer of fluid. If the drop of water pulls itself into a rounded shape the liquid is not mixable with water.

c2/- It is a flammable liquid with a hydrocarbon odour. It has absolutely no sweet odour of alcohol.

c3/- It is more flamable than kerosene. This is certain since Zippo lighters work fine with Shellite but have a hard time with kerosene. So Shelllite should not replace kerosene in lamps and stoves made for kerosene.

An extinguished torch will reignite if dipped in Shellite, therefore Shellite is not a flame dancers fluid.

c4/- It has high heat content. It has hotter flame than alcohols or methylated spirit. Therefore Shellite is not a flame dancers fluid.

Step 4: ​d/- Origin

Shellite petroleum spirit is made from crude oil, is totally different from methylated spirit which is made from wood alcohol. Do not get confused between them.

Step 5: Final Testing

Figure: An out-of-the-box new Zippo lighter burning on Shellite.

If the proposed fuel has passed all the above tests then it can be used to half fill a Zippo lighter. Strike the sparks to check fuel's flammability, smokiness and combustion residue.

With 4g (in a volume of 6cc) of Shellite the out-of-the-box, new Zippo in the picture works fine, with no smoke, no residue.

It is a long string of tests, but at the end, you can be sure that the proposed fuel is the fuel you are looking for.

Shellite is a trade name in Australia of petroleum spirits sold by Shell Australia. It is known for its ability to remove chewing gum stains on cotton clothes.