Charcoal Lighter Fluid as an alternative fuel

Discussion in 'Stove Forum' started by Reflector, Oct 28, 2020.

  1. Reflector

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    I'm fairly certain that in my quest to find alternative fuels (Pre-pandemic I was able to get 91% isopropyl for cheap when it came to the btu-dollar value) I think I've lost my sanity. Perhaps the denatured alcohol ban in California along with the pandemic was a contributor too.

    In recency I acquired a Soto Stormbreaker and out of pure curiosity (as well as wanting to find an alternative fuel given the unavailability of white gas for a while) along with reading old threads on CCS I had found that charcoal lighter fluid had been mentioned and I had noticed that in some cases it was listed as naphtha or otherwise it was said to be a petroleum distillate (light or heavy in some cases). Turns out it'll run in the Soto but I have yet to try my other stoves where I suspect it would work far better than I expect as the Soto is seemingly a "white gas only" stove.

    My experiences with it are a mixed bag but I have found a lot of success in mixing it with a little bit of Coleman fuel/white gas. It works far better than it should with a little bit of white gas in it than if it were run purely on CLF. I hadn't realized that it was actually closer to a sort of "light kerosene" cut with a little bit of naphtha which explains why it even runs "straight" in the first place. The Stormbreaker is listed as being a white gas/unleaded only stove but it seems to run straight CLF just with a stench. The addition of white gas as 1/5 of the fuel eliminates most of it when the stove is hot and shutdown is the only time that it is a bit of a problem and only briefly with the right shutdown. My experiences with it are in the Soto Stormbreaker gallery thread here and I'll continually update it:
    Soto StormBreaker

    But this isn't the reason for the thread. It is what I found out on it that I hadn't seen before on easily available resources along with a general lack of experiment journals with CLF. A caution in that this is primarily US centric information and my experiences are with "Expert" odorless charcoal lighter fluid from Walmart. I have no idea what the "environmentally friendly" forms of CLF or bio-kerosene that are made out of recycled cooking oil are like but I remember some mentions about them being very tight on the alkane groups.

    As for information on using charcoal lighter fluid as an alternative fuel or a mix to be used for white gas "only" stoves:


    From a manufacturer's page:
    Doing a search on "Isoparaffinic Hydrocarbon" led to some particularly important information:
    C10 to C15 being the higher alkanes: Decane (C10), Undecane (C11), Dodecane (C12), Tridecane (C13), Tetradecane (C14) and Pentdecane (C15).

    Curiously on the Wikipedia page for alkanes:
    Historically jet fuels are generally kerosenes or sometimes naphthas with an alkane range of C8-C16 and C5-C15 depending on the specific grade:
    The U-2 spy plane ran on straight lighter fluid of some sort, which likely means the C10-C15 range:
    From the CCS thread Price of kerosene?
    So by cutting a little bit of white gas in, it adds the C5 to C9 alkanes but the "light kerosene" component is effectively C10-C15, blended together that's C5-C15 or otherwise like running kerosene. From reading about "Amish mixes" of 25/75% of white gas and kerosene on either side, it seems that the CLF mixed with white gas is a very similar blend in effect, just with less of the C5-C9 part of the mix.

    But why would ever run CLF in a stove or blend it with some white gas?
    Kerosene and white gas.jpg
    Mixed CLF prices.jpg

    If there's no white gas or other equivalent available for a reasonable price and CLF is available "dirt cheap" then mixing some of it with white gas produces a serviceable fuel for white gas stoves. I found 1 part of white gas can be mixed with 3 to 5 parts on the "CLF rich" end of things and can more than adequately well with a hot stove. At 2 parts it doesn't need as much heat to start up and at 1 or less (white gas rich) mixtures it tends to startup very well in not needing as much preheating. Kerosene burning stoves where they likely will handle it far better but I have yet to test any in my MSR Whisperlite Universal that I need to find again for running tests later.

    Small quantities of CLF generally are more price competitive than a quart of 1-K from what I've seen as they're available in 1 or 2 quart bottles. I can only assume for anyone who is more experimental and willing to use regular unleaded that this could serve as a way of reducing the nastiness of the harder to burn additives in unleaded by diluting it down. I can only imagine that clearances of CLF would just crater the price to the point it starts looking a little competitive against bulk prices (in the range of 5 gal or pump kerosene or pump gasoline).


    I do hope this collected together information is valuable for someone. I know finding Dutch_Peter's post among a bunch of other posts here on CCS on CLF and fuels in general with additional information from various online resources sent me on a bit of an info discovery journey.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  2. Reflector

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    Also as this didn't make it into the first post, on looking up "Isoparaffinic Hydrocarbon" I stumbled onto an industrial solvent's "petitioned substance" sheet which seems to list the compounds as being C11 to C16 alkanes which is close to the C10-C15 spread mentioned earlier in a research paper:
    Isopar M.jpg

    It also clarifies "Isoparaffinic Hydrcarbon" as a definition further.

    Perhaps the material information component can be used to compare against what are likely the many varieties of CLF mixtures when it comes to the alkanes as well when it comes to the density and flash point as a reference to the higher alkane spread:
    Properties of Isopar M.jpg

    Expert CLF for reference, which may be manufactured by Royal Oak which makes CLF:
    Expert CLF.jpg

    Kerosene:
    1K Kerosene.jpg
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  3. Reflector

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    Multiple wordy posts from above summarized for anyone looking for quick information:

    Charcoal lighter fluid in the US is likely kerosene or a very narrow range of heavier alkanes found in kerosene. Some versions like the many "odorless" varieties are likely with naphtha mixed back in some unknown proportional ratio to add back the lighter alkanes.

    The odorless variants are likely similar to something like "Amish mix" but weighted towards the heavier alkanes more than anything. It will burn straight in "white gas only" stoves with tons of preheating but in my experience with my Soto it can be stinky in combustion as it isn't designed for it. Kerosene capable stoves likely will do better with it.

    CLF is cheap for the amounts of BTUs in it for the minimum purchase price of a bottle and likely can be mixed with white gas and run in white gas only stoves like the Soto Stormbreaker if inexpensive white gas isn't available. It works in my experience given specific ratios for the mix and with plenty of heating of the generator for white gas only stoves when there is a lot of CLF with a bit of white gas.

    It might be even better to dilute down unleaded gasoline if white gas is unavailable for a white gas only stove as CLF doesn't have the nasty additives of unleaded gasoline. CLF is used to start charcoal for cooking food and that makes me believe that it is less nasty of a fuel since it is close to kerosene.

    Regarding the BTU/$ information above:
    My values are from my own research and can have errors - please let me know if they're wrong. I used kerosene's BTU/lb but I may have to adjust those to be lower or higher by a few percentage points for CLF depending on information on it as it seems to be closer to "wide cut" jet fuel where it has naphtha added.
     
    Last edited: Oct 28, 2020
  4. Ed Winskill

    Ed Winskill United States Subscriber

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    To my simple mind US charcoal lighter fluid is kerosene for all practical purposes. I have not, however, used it in stoves myself; have no reason to.

    But I now use kerosene as CLF because it is cheaper and I have lots of it. It's performance to me seems exactly like the standard BBQ lighter fluid.

    Maybe the stuff has 'naptha' in it; but it ain't naptha.
     
  5. ROBBO55

    ROBBO55 Subscriber

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    @Reflector

    A lot of useful research there. Thanks
     
  6. Reflector

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    I don't think I have any local pump kerosene in the area and the only stuff I can buy is in the gallon jugs which are very seasonal, along with the quart cans. CLF seems to not have the rotten eggs/sulfur smell to it, which makes me believe that I can treat it like "budget Klean Heat" as something to add to white gas if it isn't available in the gallon cans for extended usage with my white gas "only" burning stoves, especially when it is at around 2 parts, even higher in some stoves that get hot or otherwise if I can control the odor on shutdown.

    Better than unleaded when inexpensive white gas isn't available. Not all my stoves can burn straight butane or burn it as well so I have another fuel option that exceeds >10,000btu per dollar as an option or otherwise approach that number if mixed with expensive white gas or otherwise the btu/$ rates of isobutane canisters:
    Isobutane prices.jpg

    And for anyone curious about straight butane:
    Straight butane prices.jpg

    And propane:
    Propane prices.jpg

    For my personal purposes I'd need to buy straight butane at around $1.00 to $0.75 a canister to equal a gallon of white gas at under $9.00 for btu/$ equivalence. Some of the white gas is "lost" in the process of preheating stoves or otherwise replaced by alcohol along with the shutdown procedure for stoves with a fuel line but for cheap stove fun straight butane and Crown white gas by the gallon are the options.

    Propane is expensive by the pound sized bottle and only does it start to equal straight butane and cheap gallon white gas. If a stove can burn straight CLF or otherwise light off CLF with a little bit of white gas then it comes in right behind butane for a minimum quantity purchase of inexpensive fuel when it comes to btu/$. If kerosene is available inexpensively in an area then it can be mixed with white gas and likely burn very well too depending on the ratio.


    Another post I forgot to link and quote in the first one: https://classiccampstoves.com/threads/what-is-benzoline.14252/#post-141168
     
  7. Ed Winskill

    Ed Winskill United States Subscriber

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    I've put 15% white gas into kero for cold weather cooking.
     
  8. Murph

    Murph United States Subscriber

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    I've used CLF in my kero stoves, works a treat. Buy it at the right time of year, and it's dirt cheap, too.

    80/20 kero/CF works well in my Coleman 502 as is, I can use straight kero (CLF) if I use the dish in the burner center as a preheat cup. I've used VM&P naptha in place of CF, no problems, same using MAPP gas in propane stoves.

    Murph
     
  9. Reflector

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    Tried using 3 parts CLF to 1 part white gas in a MSR Whisperlite Universal using an UK jet: It lights once it heats up (priming with alcohol or otherwise using a butane torch to heat the stove) but it stinks while burning and produces some slight orangeness in the core of the flame. It reminds me of what happens when I burn straight CLF through the Soto Stormbreaker.

    I did have some slight difficulty lighting it with the Stormbreaker, it produced a white cloud over the burner head that refused to ignite. I had eventually resorted to letting a little of it pool up in the burner head before igniting it and turning the valve to air to help fuel the flames. Perhaps something changed from the new bottle I bought for this run but it burned fine once the Stormbreaker was hot. It is a little colder out than on previous runs, so I will have to figure out what is going on.

    Curiously the ratio didn't have too much a stench in the Stormbreaker, I had poured it out from the same fuel bottle that I was running the Soto on earlier. Maybe the UK jet is still burning a little too rich for this mixture? It is the smallest jet from my understanding of the Whisperlite Universal.

    I do have a MSR Whisperlite Expedition kit with all the jets for the International and normal Whisperlite but I'd have to figure out which one is smaller than the UK, maybe the IK? Otherwise, a higher ratio of white gas is needed for a Whisperlite Universal.

    A side note: I was able to sniff a can of K-1 kerosene to compare the smell against "odorless" CLF. It definitely is not the same thing.
     
  10. BradB

    BradB United States Subscriber

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    Do you think your K1 is more refined than the CLF?
     
  11. Reflector

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    A little correction to my earlier post: It was 1-K, not K-1.

    I doubt it, it was a quart can of Crown I unscrewed the cap off of at Walmart to take a quick sniff to verify if CLF is kerosene. The kerosene had more of a "heavy" odor to it and I think it might have been the sulfur I was smelling, it otherwise was more "unpleasant" (biting/bitter is roughly what I'd describe it as) odor to it. The CLF is distinctly petroleum-y in smell and is more pleasant than white gas (both Coleman in the little red bottle with red dye and Crown. I'd describe it as being like something a little closer to a really light and faint smelling version of gasoline at gas stations or otherwise something like parts cleaner fluid (petroleum based).

    The caps on the CLF are unsealed as well, you can pop it open and lightly take a wift of the odor to compare. It definitely wasn't kerosene from my examination. If I see Klean Heat anywhere I'll do a smell test on it as well if it isn't sealed.
     
  12. Reflector

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    I tried 2 parts CLF to 1 part white gas for the Whisperlite Universal and the odor was cut down but still present along with orange flames. It was significantly "less obnoxious" and only noticeable if immediately downstream of the exhaust.

    After observations I think what's going on is the WLU is not delivering enough heat into the generator. On initial preheat using a lot of alcohol to get the WLU extra hot, the initial flame that came out was a solid blue when the burner wasn't glowing red. While it wasn't glowing red, there was a distinct lack of odor coming from it.

    In contrast: After the WLU started running long enough and at higher throttle settings the WLU had a nice red glow around the burner but the flame had turned orange and the stink was present.

    The Stormbreaker has the generator get hot enough in operation with white gas or butane that it will glow a dull cherry red in the flames with the valve wide open. When running the CLF mix, I notice that the generator doesn't glow as brightly red as it would with white gas or straight butane.

    I may try to give this another shot by testing the WLU with some white gas and the UK jet to see if maybe this is just the UK jet misbehaving before trying the UG jet out.

    Perhaps the WLU can run CLF mixes but it has to be diluted down further and that negates much of the benefits of reduced cost when white gas isn't available in large quantities. Maybe another stove like the XGK would run it better as it has a directly exposed generator that takes a lot of heat when it comes to higher ratios of CLF to white gas.
     
  13. BradB

    BradB United States Subscriber

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    @Reflector , I appreciate your experimentation with the different fuels. Access to various fuels differ dramatically across the USA, as well as in other countries across the globe. Knowing what will burn well in the WLU is probably of interest to many people. Brad
     
  14. presscall

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    Referring to the Soto Stormbreaker ...
    Looking at that ‘Stormbreaker’ post I see it was responsible for coking-up the generator too. A fuel mixture best avoided is my conclusion.
     
  15. Reflector

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    I've been running it in the Stormbreaker and it doesn't seem to have reduced output as I'm running through another bottle of fuel as I've been using it to boil hot water and cook rice on a mostly regular basis. If anything, after that cleaning the Stormbreaker has been happily running just fine with more output then when I initially received it - especially when it comes to butane. Perhaps it is a mix of the original owner running a decent amount of fuel through it before I had cleaned it out. I'll report back if it cokes up but I found that the carbon powder just blew right out with a little indirect puff of air from my mouth and the output afterwards has kept up just fine.

    The generator glow I am a bit suspect on as I know if I run the Stormbreaker on gaseous butane that the generator will get nice and red hot if run on gas for a bit. Additionally I can most certainly make the generator glow by intentionally running the Stormbreaker between a full run and start which will change the fuel mixture from liquid to having some air in it and reduce the mass flow in the generator. The generator gets "hot" but not as hot as if it was left running with gaseous butane.

    What I am fairly certain of now is the current ("new", 2 quart) bottle I have absolutely needs preheating on the Stormbreaker even if it is a little gentle bit of massaging from a jet lighter for 3 seconds or otherwise it simply will refuse to light up at certain ratios. It seems that as a fuel it is fairly resistant to ignition even with some white gas mixed in as it is being expelled in droplet form. In a way, I guess this makes it CLF something that can make WG less volatile. Perhaps that is useful in itself for being able to make some "safer" white gas mixtures by adding some proportional amount of WG to make the vapors less easily ignitable.

    Personally I'll keep experimenting with "alternative fuels" and mixes in the long term while reporting on them, I don't see that many posts beyond "Amish mix" and I had gotten into this early on because I had wanted to adapt cassette stove butane canisters as well as run isopropyl alcohol. As long as there's no permanent damage I'll be happy with my hobby. That and I think I'm dealing with less of nastiness than pump gasoline anyways.

    It'll run isopropyl alcohol for sure, not as well when it comes to 70% like the Simmerlite that I have a drilled jet for but it will run various types of alcohol. 91% or 91% with some methanol and/or ethanol added makes it run happily. I haven't actually run any hydrocarbons in the WLU aside from (iso)butane and propane as I had originally gotten my WLU and Simmerlite to run on isopropyl as I consider them "safer" fuels to deal with. They don't have as nasty of vapors to deal with and it seems to make simmering performance a lot better. In all cases: Plenty of preheating is needed, especially with lower % isopropyl where there's a lot of water.

    I'll have to figure out what's going on with the WLU by running some straight white gas through it and procuring kerosene when it becomes available at a reasonable price (as in gallon containers) to test run it as a contrast.