Flaming Coffee Creamer

A packet of coffee creamer is poured onto the flame of a propane torch. It flares up to make a small fireball, illustrating that a substance that is commonly considered non-flammable may burn vigorously when it is finely divided.

Curriculum Notes 

This demo is usually used when factors that affect reaction rates are being discussed. Allow about 5 minutes for this demo.

Lead Time 
One day of lead time is required for this project.
Discussion 

The rate at which a chemical reaction occurs depends on several factors, including temperature, concentration, and the presence of a catalyst. When one of the reactants is a solid, the reaction can only occur on the surface of the solid. Therefore, anything that increases the surface area of the solid, like finely dividing it into a powder, usually increases the rate of any reaction in which the solid is a reactant. In this demo, the reaction is the combustion of the corn syrup solids, vegetable fats and oils, and sodium caseinate that are the primary constituents of non-dairy creamer. Combustion of these compounds would proceed slowly, if at all, if they were not finely divided and suspended in air, thus allowing a relatively large proportion of the solid reactant molecules to come into intimate contact with the oxygen molecules in the air.

Materials 
  • 2 packets of coffee creamer
  • propane torch
  • striker
Procedure 

Light the propane torch. From a height of about 0.5 m above the flame, quickly pour the contents of the packet of coffee creamer into the flame. The powder will ignite and flare up, producing a small fireball.

Safety Precautions 

Obviously, it is easy to get burned if you are not careful. If you have not done this demo before, it is a good idea to practice before attempting it in front of a class. Keep the surrounding area clear of combustible materials and keep a fire extinguisher handy.

© Copyright 2012 Email: Randy Sullivan, University of Oregon Chemistry Department and UO Libraries Interactive Media Group