Element 58 in our International Year of the Periodic Table series is cerium. Cerium is the main metal in lighter flints, and is also found in ovens and diesel fuel.

Cerium is the main metal in the alloy mischmetal, which sparks when struck and is used in lighter flints. Mischmetal also contains several other lanthanoid elements; a typical composition includes 55% cerium, 25% lanthanum, and up to 18% neodymium. Other lanthanoid metals make up the remainder. In lighter flints, it’s typically mixed with iron oxide and magnesium oxide to increase its hardness.

Cerium(III) oxide is used in the walls of self-cleaning ovens. It helps prevent the build-up of cooking residue by acting as a catalyst for the oxidation of hydrocarbons.

Cerium oxide also finds use in diesel fuels. Nanoparticles of it are added to diesel, and act as a fuel-borne catalyst, improving the fuel efficiency and also reducing emissions.

Remember, you can keep track of all of the previous entries in this series on the site here, or on the Royal Society of Chemistry’s dedicated page.