13

I've got a Primus OmniLite Ti stove and am testing it with different fuels. Apart from having fun and experimenting, I'd like to understand how the stove behaves on such non-standard fuels. I'm not talking about emergencies (you'd burn anything for survival); but even hikes in "civilised" places such as European woodlands might require buying fuel locally. If I have a limited choice of either automotive gas/petrol or a paint thinner from a village hardware shop, I'd rather bet on the thinner :)

A couple of questions:

  • Why this stove (and other similar ones) won't burn alcohol / spirit?
  • When I have a choice, should I buy "light" (C5-C7) or "heavy" (C10-C15) hydrocarbon fuels? This isn't a theoretical question; right now I have two bottles of unknown paint thinners... but they have information about hydrocarbon contents in them!
  • What's so special about kerosene? I've read several times that "if your stove can burn kerosene, it will burn anything!"
  • This answer says that dense fuels require smaller jets while lighter fuels use wider jets. What if I use a wrong jet? Would it simply cause imperfect combustion and loss of power OR pose a fire/explosion risk?
  • Can I use acetone, toluene, xylene or turpentine? If no, why?
  • Toxicity: the solvents have a lot of warnings about toxicity from acute and prolonged exposure. However, this applies to inhaling/ingesting the solvent, not burning it. From what I gleaned online, only automotive gas/petrol emits noxious fumes during burning, and only because of the car additives; solvents burn cleanly in a pressure-stove such as Primus. Am I correct?
  • 1
    The most common toxic compound associated with burning is not the additives - it's carbon monoxide from incomplete combustion. Solvents might burn cleanly or not, it depends on the solvent and the stove. – bob1 Jul 21 at 10:10
  • 1
    I'm willing to experiment with fire in some cases (e.g. my alcohol stove question linked in my answer). But I'd be very wary indeed of experimenting with this, even at home. With a pressurised stove it's much harder to limit the available fuel, so I'd want a way to shut off the supply even if the stove was flaring terribly - something like steel sheet between the stove and the bottle, with a small hole for the hose, and of course a non-flammable surface, checking what's above/adjacent, etc. – Chris H Jul 21 at 10:47
  • Will the exhaust gases be in contact with food? – Harper - Reinstate Monica Jul 22 at 3:46
  • 1
    Great idea about metal sheet @Chris H! Yes, of course I’m experimenting outside, on concrete tiles, all while wearing flame-retarding clothes and face protection :) – Alexander Jul 22 at 7:03
  • I’m using cans with lids Harper, the fumes shan’t reach the food… I’ve thought about it, because even “normal” car petrol is quite noxious :) – Alexander Jul 22 at 7:39
12

There are a couple of reasons why you can't use alcohol or acetone:

  • A petrol/gasoline/kerosene/diesel etc. stove needs the fuel to be vapourised, under pressure and mixed with air for it to burn (cleanly/efficiently). Alcohol doesn't. You can burn it cleanly in an open cup, though designs with a ring of jets work well; these are different to the jet plus mixing chamber design of a petrol stove. As I've found, you can also burn acetone this way.
  • Alcohols can attack the seals on stoves not designed for use with them. MSR specifically warn against using them for this reason. Acetone will be worse, as it attacks more plastics (including synthetic rubbers) than alcohols. Alcohols can also attack unlined aluminium fuel bottles, so MSR warn against long-term storage of alcohol-containing petrol in their bottles.

If your stove can burn kerosene, it will burn anything! isn't quite true (obviously it's not logically true; it won't burn water). What this means is that it will burn a wide range of hydrocarbon fuels, because kerosene is an intermediate mix of fractions between petrol and diesel, and there's some tolerance for burning similar (but lighter or heavier) fuels.

Here's a list of various fuels and solvents distilled from crude oil. Note that it uses UK terminology (see this answer for various international names). The ones to note are:

  • petrol (AKA gasoline: C7-9). I used to use this in my stove, but my van runs on diesel (and my stove doesn't) so I don't have petrol around.
  • naphtha (used as a solvent and as liquid lighter fuel such as for Zippos: C6-11). This burns well in my MSR, with the petrol jet, and isn't too expensive. I've seen sources that say white gas is the same as this, but those sources don't quote the number of carbon atoms.
  • kerosene/paraffin (C11-18)
  • diesel (C11-18)

These last 2 are listed as the same weights, but that's a little misleading for us as the proportions of the various fractions can vary, however they normally share a jet. Diesel is also likely to contain additives, which may or may not burn cleanly.

So going by carbon content alone, you'd use your petrol jet for the lighter solvent/fuels, and the kerosene jet for the heavier one. However you do need to be careful with things sold as solvents - they may contain other components in sufficient quantities to cause problems. You need to be able to read the label in detail.

Further reading: MSR have some notes including names of fuels in various languages.

If you really need to be able to burn alcohol/acetone as a backup to a petrol stove, I suggest you make or buy a simple open cup or jetted burner, and find a way to use it with the pot stand and windshield of your petrol stove.

| improve this answer | |
5
  1. No alcohol - because these use a vapour phase to burn, this is best achieved by evaporation from the surface of the fuel under the heat generated by burning. Pressurizing alcohol based fuels results in a flame-thrower is my understanding.
  2. It depends on the jet you have - larger jets for fuels with low vapour pressure generally.
  3. Kerosene is heavy-chain hydrocarbon, it takes a lot of heat and priming to get it going. If you can burn kerosene you should be able to burn most other common fuels because kerosene is harder to get going.
  4. I'm not sure on this one - I think incomplete combustion. Smaller jets allow higher velocity for the same pressure of the fuel coming out, which will allow better air/fuel mixing and hence more efficient combustion.
  5. Maybe. Acteone is unlikely - it evaporates and burns very rapidly so won't be a great fuel. The others are much heavier and much more toxic to handle. I would avoid all of these as fuels!
  6. Every liquid is a solvent - water and petrol/gas included. I've burnt 91 octane petrol in my Coleman stove before with no problems other than a bit of soot, but it's not something I do regularly. If you need to use petrol, using caution is advised, but no more than you should be doing with a cooker anyway to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning- use in a well ventilated area away from flammable areas.

Also note that petrol and other heavy fuels like kerosene and diesel deposit gunk in your cooker lines and soot on the jets which must be cleaned away for optimum performance. Using fuels outside of the specified ones increases the risk of deposits and a subsequent decrease in performance and potentially permanent damage to the cooker as well.

| improve this answer | |
3

If you find yourself in a remote area without a supply of "normal" stove fuels, you might try lamp oil, tiki torch fuel, citronella oil, charcoal lighter fluid, cigarette lighter fluid, graffiti remover solvent, WD-40 (non-aerosol), lemon oil, Marvel Mystery Oil, etc. They are all light hydrocarbons and they all burn more or less like kerosene.

My multi-fuel lantern instructions mention Stoddard Solvent as a usable fuel, but I've never seen Stoddard Solvent for sale in a retail store.

| improve this answer | |
  • Yes, WD-40, haven’t thought about it! But citronella and lemon oil?.. Really? – Alexander Jul 22 at 7:12
  • 1
    @Alexander Yes, really! Not the pure essential oil of citronella or lemon (though they might work too) but the typical retail product. The MSDS for Lamplight Farms Citronella and Cedar Tiki Torch Fuel shows that it is 99% white mineral oil and 1% citronella and cedar oil. The MSDS for Howard Products Lemon Oil Furniture Polish shows that it is 95-99% petroleum distillate and 1-5% lemon oil. I've seen these typical percentages in many similar products. – MTA Jul 22 at 12:47
  • 1
    Be careful with charcoal lighter fluid. It's sometimes isopropanol (not good) and when based on paraffin (kerosene) is often thickened, so will clog valves. – Chris H Jul 22 at 21:57
  • 1
    I'd also avoid leaving some of the other oils you mention in the bottle or hoses long term. The low percentage of the essential oils may still be enough to do some damage as some are fairly aggressive – Chris H Jul 22 at 21:58
  • WD40 contains penetrants and lubricants, couldn't this lead to nasty residues when burnt? – fgysin reinstate Monica Aug 11 at 7:53

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.