What is the working principle of a BBQ grill lighter?

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A BBQ grill ignitor.

A BBQ grill lighter generates a spark that ignites the grill using piezoelectricity. The term “piezo” means pressure in Greek, and piezoelectric materials are found in various products. These include push-button igniters in gas BBQ grills or fireplaces, push-button cigarette lighters, piezoelectric beepers, tweeters in stereo speakers, sound-generating arrays for sonar and ultrasound devices, crystal microphones, phonograph needles, and quartz crystals that function as the time base in most digital clocks and timers.

The piezoelectric effect is exhibited by certain crystalline materials such as quartz, Rochelle salt, and some ceramics. Applying pressure to these materials causes a charge separation within the crystal and generates voltage across the crystal, sometimes reaching extremely high levels. In a BBQ lighter, the popping sound occurs when a spring-loaded hammer hits a crystal and generates thousands of volts across its faces. This voltage can create a spark that lights the gas in the grill, similar to the voltage driving a spark plug in a gasoline engine.

In a crystal microphone, the crystal deforms under air pressure, causing small changes in voltage that are amplified and used to record or transmit sound. Piezoelectric materials also work in reverse; applying voltage across the crystal causes it to change shape, driving small speakers like the beeper in a digital watch with a beeping alarm.


Learn More about Piezoelectricity

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • How a BBQ Grill Works
  • How Ultrasound Works
  • How Quartz Watches Work
  • How Digital Clocks Work
  • How do microphones work?

More Great Links

  • A History of Piezoelectricity
  • What are Piezo crystals?
  • A piezoelectric bomb (used as a demonstration – nice photos of a cigarette lighter)
  • Piezoelectric crystal demo
  • Piezoelectricity
  • Piezoelectric Materials for Sensor and Actuator Applications at NASA LaRC


1. What is a BBQ grill lighter?

A BBQ grill lighter is a device used to ignite the fuel source in a BBQ grill. It typically uses a spark to ignite a small amount of gas or propane, which then ignites the main fuel source.

2. How does a BBQ grill lighter work?

When the trigger on the BBQ grill lighter is pressed, it releases a small amount of gas or propane into the grill. This gas or propane then mixes with air to create a combustible mixture. When a spark is introduced to this mixture, it ignites the gas or propane, which then ignites the main fuel source.

3. What type of fuel does a BBQ grill lighter use?

A BBQ grill lighter typically uses either gas or propane as its fuel source. The type of fuel used depends on the type of grill and the specific model of lighter being used.

4. Can a BBQ grill lighter be used with charcoal grills?

Yes, a BBQ grill lighter can be used with charcoal grills. However, it is important to use a lighter specifically designed for use with charcoal, as they are designed to ignite charcoal briquettes more effectively than a standard gas or propane lighter.

5. Is it safe to use a BBQ grill lighter?

When used properly, a BBQ grill lighter is safe to use. However, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions and take proper safety precautions when using any type of lighter or combustible fuel.

6. Can a BBQ grill lighter be used in windy conditions?

It is not recommended to use a BBQ grill lighter in windy conditions, as the wind can blow out the flame or cause the lighter to malfunction. If it is necessary to use a lighter in windy conditions, it is recommended to use a windproof lighter specifically designed for use in these conditions.

7. How long does a BBQ grill lighter last?

The lifespan of a BBQ grill lighter depends on the specific model and how frequently it is used. With proper care and maintenance, a high-quality BBQ grill lighter can last for several years.

8. Can a BBQ grill lighter be repaired if it stops working?

It is possible to repair a BBQ grill lighter if it stops working. However, it is often more cost-effective to simply replace the lighter rather than attempting to repair it.

9. What are some common problems with BBQ grill lighters?

Some common problems with BBQ grill lighters include sparks not igniting the fuel source, gas leaks, and malfunctioning trigger mechanisms. These issues can often be resolved through proper maintenance and cleaning of the lighter.

10. Where can I purchase a BBQ grill lighter?

BBQ grill lighters can be purchased at most hardware stores, home improvement stores, and online retailers. It is important to choose a high-quality lighter from a reputable manufacturer to ensure safe and effective use.

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