- Unlike their butane brethren, plasma lighters don’t rely on gas to create a flame, but instead use—you guessed it–the mysterious fourth kind of matter, plasma.
- Using plasma lighters rather than traditional butane lighters is the greenest way to get an instant spark.
- Plasma lighters will keep you from piling up heaps of plastic disposable ones that will likely just sit in a landfill.
Ditch your long-necked candle lighters and disposable Bics. Over time, as the butane gas inside those kinds of lighters is depleted, they become less and less effective until eventually there’s nothing left. And when you throw them away, they likely end up in a landfill.
Good thing there’s a solution to this problem: the plasma lighter. Not only will you be doing a tiny good deed for the Earth, but you’ll also feel like a Jedi when you show it off to your friends.
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Plasma lighters aren’t exactly new—they first date back to a 2015 Kickstarter project—but they’re having a bit of a moment right now. That first plasma lighter, called the Illume ArcLighter, was built as a flameless, electronic candle lighter that looks like a vape pen. Its name refers to the high-intensity electric arc that’s created at the tip of the lighter, thanks to the power of plasma. And the idea really took off: 2,556 backers jointly pledged $198,355 to fund the project.
Five years later, the company has opened its own shop, added a new pocket lighter, and hoards of competitors are now making and selling similar products online. These plasma lighters cause zero charring (that blackish, foul-smelling ring you get on the inside of glass jars); can light things from virtually any direction, even vertically; and only have to be charged to continue using them.
But how do these things actually work?
We have four basic types of matter: liquids, solids, gases, and plasma, that curious, hard-to-explain substance your science teachers told you made up most planets.
Flickr/Ghost of Kuji
And they’re right—despite plasma being the least understood state of matter, it’s oddly the most prevalent type of matter in the visible universe. According to ITER, an international nuclear fusion research and engineering megaproject based in France, 99.99 percent of all matter in the visible universe, including stars and intergalactic matter, is in a state of plasma.
In liquids, gases, and solids, the nuclei of atoms and electrons are closely related, but in a plasma, electrons are stripped from their atoms under varying temperature conditions. That dissociation creates an ionized gas with properties far different from that of your typical, average gaseous matter.
Over the last century, an entire field has been dedicated to the study of the strange matter: plasma physics. As scientists attempted to recreate the physical reactions that take place in the sun and the stars in an effort to capture any resulting energy, they discovered two really neat properties of plasma: its stellar electrical conductivity and sensitivity to magnetic fields. Unlike gases, according to ITER, plasma is a great electrical conductor that can be shaped by magnetic fields.
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In the case of plasma lighters, a high-voltage electrical current passes between two nodes to create an arc of highly charged plasma, according to Flux Lighters, a U.K.-based manufacturer of the lighters. The plasma creates heat that, in turn, lights the object in question from a wick, to a cigarette, to a piece of paper.
“Plasma lighters work on the same principal as lightning,” the company wrote in a blog post. “Lightning occurs when a build-up or electrical charge within clouds reaches the point where the ability of that charge to move through the air is reached and the charged particles jump either between clouds, or down to the ground causing a huge arc of plasma, light, heat and sound.”
If you’re looking to buy one of these lightsaber-like lighters, they’re in the same general price range as a Zippo, depending on what you’re looking for, but can often be cheaper. And since they’re rechargeable, no more wasting money on lighter fluid.
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