New Cooking Pot Can Charge Your Cellphone
CREDIT: David Toledo
A new cooking pot can do more than just make your soup. The PowerPot can also charge your iPhone.
Developed by materials scientists David Toledo and Paul Slusser, the pot uses the difference in temperature between the hot bottom of the pot and the cooler interior of the pot to generate a small current--up to 5 watts, just enough to charge a cellphone or two.
The lightweight pot is made of aluminum and has a base of a telluride alloy. It comes with three feet of flame-resistant cabling (an important feature for anything that's meant to be placed on an open fire). As long as the interior of the pot contains liquid, the pot continues to generate energy, but generation decreases as the soup temperature rises.
The underlying concept of thermoelectric power has been known for more than 100 years, but only recently has it become practical for use, Toledo said.
"Moore's Law and thermoelectric technology are kind of crossing each other. Now there's demand for these low-power applications," he said. Modern phones require very little current to charge, and the fact that many modern devices charge via USB means that their voltage requirements are standardized--another reason why thermoelectric charging's time has come, Toledo added.
The inventors have been developing prototypes of the PowerPot since 2007, and this year turned to crowd-sourcing funding site Kickstarter to bring the pot to market. In nine days, the team had raised $50,000, enough money to establish a larger production run and, more importantly, Toledo said, bring the cost down to the $125 the team will charge for a PowerPot.
Although other thermoelectric cooking pots are on the market, PowerPot is lighter, generates more power and costs less.
"There's a lot of people trying to do something like this," Toledo said. "What we did is we figured out how to use existing technology and make it reliable in this scenario, and that makes it affordable."
The product is primarily aimed at backpackers, but Toledo and Slusser are souping up the PowerPot to create a 15-watt version that they envision being primarily used in developing nations (and indeed, donations through Kickstarter are ensuring that 60 pots, including at least seven 15-watt versions, will go to individuals in Uganda, Ghana and more).
The larger, 15-watt PowerPot is "kind of the typical pot people are already cooking out of, like a larger pot where they cook four hours a day on a fire," Toledo said.
Fifteen watts per hour at four hours a day is enough to charge “half a dozen phones,” he added. “At that point, you have a business. You can be selling power to your neighbors."
Of course, most Kenyan entrepreneurs don't have the cash on hand to purchase a PowerPot. And in some instances, solar or hand-cranked generators make much more sense.
But as a way to generate power from heat that would otherwise be "going up into the sky," as Toledo says, the PowerPot idea might hold water.