While on a trip overseas in the early 1990s, Jim Scudder and Jim Berntsen, the founders of Ontro, came upon an interesting product – a beverage container that would heat its contents without the benefit of external energy sources.
They soon found similar products in other parts of the world, but all had two very significant problems.
Every self-heating container they found was either cumbersome, and in some cases even dangerous to activate, or it was designed in such a way that manufacturing costs (and thus, the eventual market price) were extremely high.
Scudder and Berntsen were intrigued by this technology, but they realised that several major enhancements would have to be made before a self-heating container of any kind could be successfully sold.
Using primarily their own funds, with outside assistance from a few close friends, the two founders then set out to ‘build a better mousetrap.’
Today, six years later, and with an investment of over £10 million dollars, the end result of that effort is a self-heating container the size and shape of an ordinary 16 ounce can.
Although it sounds remarkable, the technology behind the can is remarkable straightforward. An outside cylinder is combined with an inside cone essentially forming a can within a can. The inside cone is filled with a natural mineral – calcium oxide – also known as crushed limestone. A plastic puck filled with water and sealed is then put into the inside cone and sealed with a tamper proof foil. Next, the can is filled with a beverage like coffee, tea or soup and sealed.
When it’s time to enjoy a hot beverage, the consumer simply pulls off the tamper-proof foil on the bottom of the can and firmly pushes the button down.
This releases the water into the limestone and the combination of these two elements begins a natural thermal reaction that heats the can up. After 5 seconds the can is turned over, and in six to eight minutes the beverage is hot and ready to drink.
In addition to the self-heating can, Ontro recently received a directive from the US Army to begin prototyping a method of developing self-heating meals as well.