How to burn money -- and still spend it laterS

With a little preparation, you can set a dollar (or pound, or euro) on fire, without scorching the actual bill. Find out how to amaze your friends and make your date think you’re a weirdo!

Let’s face it, one of the main preoccupations in life is earning some precious, precious cash. So it’s not a good idea to throw any away. Occasionally we all do. A friend and I used to squish coins on railroad tracks. Other people like to make their cash into jewelry or fold it into origami. And of course there was everyone who went to see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (zing!). But occasionally you want to cut out the middle man (or train) and just set the cash right on fire.

It would be nice, though, if once you had made that defiant gesture about the consumer economy we’re all trapped in, you could still have the cash. Now, you can! It just takes a little preparation. Since a lawsuit would cause this website to give up still more of its precious money, the preparations should include a fifty foot barren patch of concrete from which all debris had been cleared away and with at least one wall sheltering it from wind, at least three ways of putting out a fire (we recommend a bucket of water, a fire extinguisher, and a heavy blanket made of asbestos), and a full fire-fighting suit. Once you’ve got that out of the way, you’ll just need some folding money, ethanol, water, a pinch of salt, matches and tongs.

Mix up a solution of 50 percent ethanol, fifty percent water, and a pinch of salt. The salt colors the flame to make it visible. Soak a bill in the solution. Pick it out with tongs and wait until it’s not dripping anymore. Set it afire!

The fire will race around the dollar bill, but when it goes out, the dollar bill will not be consumed. We all know that alcohol (at least in high enough concentrations) can help start up a flame. Why is the bill not burnt to a crisp?

There are three things that need to be present to set things on fire; oxygen, fuel, and heat. Alcohol generally catches fire at a low temperature. Once it’s on fire, it combines with oxygen to generate more heat, and sets fire to whatever is around it. This time, however, what’s around it is water.

Water protects at substance two ways. It has a high specific heat – the heat that causes it to change to steam – so when it steams up and away, it carries a lot of heat with it. More importantly, though, it blocks access to oxygen. Water is surrounding the ethanol molecules in the dollar bill. Only the very surface of the ethanol is exposed to oxygen – and so only the very surface can burn. Since ethanol burns at a relatively low temperature, and water evaporates at a relatively high temperature, more ethanol than water is leaving the concoction. Once the ethanol is burned off, all that’s left is a soggy bill.

This ethanol-water mix is how a lot of fire stunts are done in movies. Thoroughly wetting a hand can let fire lick along the surface of the water without burning the actual flesh. That being said –there’s a reason why I didn’t title this article ‘set your hand on fire!’ The fire still does generate heat, and heat still does a number on nerve cells – of which there are many in your hand. Miscalculating the amount of solution, or the balance of ethanol and water, can cause serious injury. And serious injury generally costs a lot of money to fix, so you’d be better off just burning the money right away, anyway. Stick with the dollar bills.

Via About, Practical Chemistry, and the DOE