Heat-powered device provides electricity in off-grid areas

A US company has created a device capable of using heat from a fire to power USB devices in parts of the world that are off the grid.

According to a statement, the PowerPot — created by Salt Lake City start-up Power Practical — transforms heat from a small fire into electricity and as a result could be used as a power source for outdoor recreation or as a lifeline in developing countries.

‘There are more than 200 million people in Africa that use mobile phones but lack access to electricity. Some must walk more than a mile and spend more than 15 per cent of their monthly income just to charge their phone,’ said Power Practical chief financial officer, Caleb Light. ‘It is difficult to keep in touch with loved ones or do business off grid. Since most people faced with this problem cook on an open fire, the PowerPot fits perfectly into their routine.’

The PowerPot uses thermoelectric power, originally developed to power satellites, to generate electricity. Like solar power, thermoelectric generators operate with no moving parts, but they are powered by heat instead of light. This means the PowerPot is not dependent on sunlight and will work in any weather, at night and indoors. All the PowerPot needs to generate power is heat and water.

The PowerPot has a USB output and is currently available in two sizes. The PowerPot V is a backpacking model that produces up to 5W of electricity and weighs less than half a kilogram. This model will fully charge everyday handheld devices such as mobile phones and MP3 players in 60–90 minutes. 

The PowerPot X is a larger model, the size and weight of a typical kitchen cooking pot, with a 10W output. The PowerPot X can charge more power-hungry devices such as tablets.

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