Charge your wireless gadgets while roasting marshmallows over a camp fire?

powerpot-ghana-indoorsPower Practical, a company that sprang out of research from the University of Utah, has developed a pot that can charge wireless devices through a USB connection while boiling water. They call their device, no surprise, the PowerPot — retailing for $149. So far they have built and shipped 1,000 units after raising $126,000 through crowdfunding site Kickstarter. Success from that campaign soon led to another $750,000 in seed funding. It seems interest in the PowerPot is boiling over.

This is a seriously simple device. Really, it’s just a pot. You fill it with water. You put it on a source of heat, whether it be a camp fire, camping stove or a portable heating element. It produces electricity. How does it do this? There’s a thermoelectric plate at the bottom of the pot that taps into the differential between the heat source and the temperature of the water in the pot. Electrons move from hot to cold, and this movement of electrons produces an electrical current that PowerPot taps into. The bigger the temperature differential the more power that can be produced. A scoop of snow in the pot will produce more electricity than filling the pot with warm water.

How, you might ask, is this good for the environment? Well, it’s not necessarily good if you go build a campfire JUST to charge your iPhone. But if you’ve got a fire going anyway, whether to boil water for pasta or roast hot dogs and marshmallows, or simply to keep warm, then you might as well use the heat that is otherwise being wasted to charge up your digital camera, iPhone, BlackBerry, etc…

This also has potential application in the developing world, where cell phones are often more ubiquitous than electricity. “There are hundreds of millions of people with cell phones in Africa, and most people need to walk more than a mile and spend a big chunk of their income simply to charge their phone,” said Riley Swenson, Power Practical’s marketing director. The challenge here is get the costs down so it’s more affordable, but at $149 at low volume, it seems like there’s big potential for cost reductions here.

Neat.

The $149 PowerPot is just the basic model. It’s a 5-watt generator that can charge a small device like a cellphone or GPS unit or run low-power devices. Charge time can take a couple hours. There is a more advanced model called the PowerPot X which goes for $249. It’s a 10-watt model ideal for iPads, laptops and slightly larger gadgets.

3 thoughts on “Charge your wireless gadgets while roasting marshmallows over a camp fire?”

  1. Ontario should be discussing pumped storage options.. Flywheels, temporal power, and batteries, ecamion, are nice but not on the scale needed to fully utilize our renewables and nuclear power. I am not in the business of advocating specific projects but Northland Power has proposed a 400 MW project in Marmora for under a billion dollars. If anyone knows of other pumped storage proposals then it would be helpful to the debate. It should be noted that Hatch conducted a study that cited a similarly designed facility, built on a spoil pile, failed. With that being said, pumped storage makes the economics of renewables and nuclear much more attractive by storing intermittent and unused power, balances load and saves transmission infrastructure. Stored power at night can be sold at a premium during the day adding value to our system. The US and UK have lots of data on the benefits of pumped storage. Check out new study by US Hydropower association.

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