Most outdoor propane gas grills come with one of two ignition systems. You may be familiar with the terms electronic ignition and push-button ignition, which is also called the piezo ignition system. However, most of us do not stop to think about the details of this lighting system.
Piezo ignition is a type of ignition that is used in portable camping stoves, gas grills and some lighters. It consists of a small, spring-loaded hammer which, when a button is pressed, hits a crystal of PZT or quartz crystal. Quartz is piezoelectric, which means that it creates a voltage when deformed. This sudden forceful deformation produces a high voltage and subsequent electrical discharge, which ignites the gas.
No external electric connection is required, though wires are sometimes used to locate the sparking location away from the crystal itself. Piezo ignition systems can be operated by either a lever, push-button or built into the control knob. Only one spark is generated per turn of the knob or press of the button.
Lighters with piezo-electric ignition typically do not work or have great difficulty at high altitude, if the striking mechanism is improperly aligned. They are unsuitable for mountaineering or other high altitude applications. The higher the altitude, the less likely a lighter with piezo-electric ignition is to work. Above 8000 feet lighters with piezo-electric ignition are no longer reliable.
While most of us may not be using our propane gas barbecue grills with the push button ignition above 8,000 feet, it is good to know that there may be a loss in efficiency at those higher altitudes.