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BioLite low-emission camping stove creates its own electricity

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May 2, 2010

The power pack packs clips easily to the exterior when removed to create a cook stove that...

The power pack packs clips easily to the exterior when removed to create a cook stove that is 7.5 inches tall by 4.75 inches diameter, and weighs only 1lb 10 ounces

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Consider the humble camping stove. It requires fuel - perhaps some unwieldy bottle that air carriers object strongly to. Maybe it needs batteries to run a fan, or billows out smoke so you smell like smoked sweatshirt for the rest of the trip. The solution might be the BioLite stove - it's a collapsible wood-burning cook stove that uses almost any forest-found fuel and converts its own heat energy into electricity to achieve efficient combustion with ultra-low emissions.

Fuel

Since the BioLite will burn almost any biomass fuel; from wood, pine cones, leaves, pellets, rice husks, even dung, it means fuel need not be carried, unlike bottles for petroleum or gas burners that cannot be carried on airplanes and must be sourced at destination.

The Principal

The stove itself operates by utilizing the "woodgas" principal, whereby the thin gas layer that burns around a solid fuel is separated and added to oxygen to burn more efficiently. The BioLite power pack captures wasted heat energy from the fire and converts it to electricity via a thermoelectric generator (TEG). This is then used to power a fan which pushes oxygen into the chamber creating hotter, cleaner more efficient combustion.

The BioLite stove is a collapsible wood-burning cook stove that uses almost any forest-fou...

Assembly

The power pack fits neatly inside the combustion chamber, and clips to the exterior when removed to create a cook stove that is 7.5 inches tall, 4.75 inches in diameter, and weighs 1lb 10 ounces. The fan should be switched on and the vent open to allow oxygen flow before the fire is started using whatever forest fuels are available. Dry leaves or starter material are placed near the heat pipe within the chamber which will collect heat and convert it to electricity to drive the fan.

The oxygen added from the chamber pores gives a clean, hot flame with no smoke. The stove takes only a couple of minutes to get going and can boil one liter of water in four minutes, as rapidly as a jet boil or reactor flame. Despite this the stove exterior remains cool to the touch and well-insulated; it's therefore easy to add more fuel simply by lifting the pan and popping more in. The heat control switch lowers the speed of the fan, and this, or less fuel, will create a smaller flame for simmering.

When you wish to extinguish it you can either allow the fan to keep adding oxygen till all the fuel runs out, or by swilling the coals in any remaining cooking water and pouring into a small hole nearby. The fan will keep running to cool the stove and it takes only 5 minutes before you can pack the stove and get on the road again.

Benefits

There are no batteries, and no moving parts to break and since the TEG is made from solid state semiconductor elements, it should be good for more than twenty years of service. The addition of oxygen means wood consumption is reduced by half, smoke emissions are reduced by 95%, and black carbon is all but eliminated. As there is no dependency on fuel or power it is a great emergency preparedness tool, but could also benefit a diverse array of people living without electricity - from hikers and hunters, to backpackers and festival-goers, and people living in the developing world.

The future of BioLite

The designers behind BioLite have a patent pending and hope it will be available to purchase at an affordable price soon. BioLite have pledged to commit a portion of sales from the camp stoves to support clean wood burning projects in the developing world. PBS covered an India stove trial initiative that aims to cut the air pollution from traditional wood and dung stoves by distributing these cook stoves and monitoring the drop in air pollution and respiratory irritation in the next two years. Additionally the company is working with the Aprovecho Research Center, to develop the world’s first forced air rocket stove.

BioLite won top prize in the Vodafone Innovation Project recently, as well as first prize for the design with the lowest emissions at the ETHOS conference, a gathering of government, NGO, manufacturer and inventors to discuss the design of wood stoves for the developing world market, where it was also the only entry requiring no additional electrical resource. Additionally it was presented at the United Nations during a meeting of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO).

You can watch a video demo at the BioLite site.

Tags
19 Comments

really injoy reading your publication

gerald crofford
3rd May, 2010 @ 12:05 pm PDT

A fan with no moving parts? That's clever!

felix
4th May, 2010 @ 04:55 am PDT

If it produces no black carbon, then it must be producing CO2. Better to stick with the black carbon! Also, a cheaper idea: Why not fit a fan above the flames? The heat would turn this fan, which is connected to the fan underneath, which turns and blows oxygen into the fire. Rather like a miniature jet engine. I might try this myself!

windykites1
4th May, 2010 @ 08:18 am PDT

I just went to the site, and they said it uses the waste heat. Why is it wasted? Also they said smoke is eliminated. See my previous comments. I've just watched the video. It is really impressive.

windykites1
4th May, 2010 @ 08:35 am PDT

how do you buy this?

Jesse Merriman
5th May, 2010 @ 11:35 am PDT

windykites1...oh, where to start?

1. Of course it produces CO2. It's a wood stove. All wood stoves produce CO2. As far as wood fuel goes, that makes it carbon neutral (trees use CO2 to grow more wood, you know).

2. A fan above driving a fan below smacks of perpetual motion. It can't produce more that it's driven by, therefore won't move nearly enough air to matter. (and that's assuming you solve the problems with the upper bearings working in over 1000degF heat)

3. All thermodynamic processes produces waste heat. None are 100% efficient. Any heat not transferred (in this case) directly to the food in the cooking pot/pan is considered waste. Every touch your kitchen stove burner after cooking? That's waste heat. 4. The acrid smoke contains everything bad you don't want around a cooking stove. It's a primary cause of premature death in third world countries who have to cook over an inefficient wood fire inside.

oldhacker
6th May, 2010 @ 06:58 pm PDT

J'adorre ce fourneau.

C'est juste ce qu'il me faut pour préparer mes futures balades familiales...

I definitely like this stove. Where can I get one?

Ariel Dahan
7th May, 2010 @ 10:53 am PDT

Oldhacker. Point 2 in your letter: it does not smack of perpetual motion. Did you see I mentioned a jet engine? That is how they work, only in this case it is upside down. You would not need bearings at the top. One set at the bottom would suffice. And think about it. Does the top of the stove melt? No of course not! You would also use this stove outside your tent, not inside. I am aware of carbon neutral wood, but soot is preferable to CO2. That is called carbon capture

windykites1
9th June, 2010 @ 07:17 am PDT

windykites1: putting a turbine in the middle of the fire, in the manner you suggest (while it would probably work ok, the energy coming from the burning wood obviously), will likely disrupt combustion and will definitely disperse heat away from the center of the fire, meaning a less efficient stove.

Regarding "carbon capture", your first of all not capturing a meaningful amount of carbon (the soot is a very small percentage of the original wood) and it's a moot point anyway since burning wood is part of a relatively quick and stable carbon cycle where the carbon is easily handled by our natural enviroment, unlike fossil fuels.

Glenn Arne
12th June, 2010 @ 09:02 am PDT

windykites1: Sorry I didn't explain that point more clearly or in detail. For the fan to be effective, it needs to move a lot of air...In other words the fan needs to be spinning in the upper hundreds to mid thousands of revolutions per minute. I've seen many Finish and Norwegian Christmas toys built as large/multiple candle driven heat engines, very similar to what you have described. They typically turn a fan only 10 to 15 revs a minute. I feel that model more accurately predicts the potential performance of the fan you describe than a jet engine. (You could have also mentioned an automobile turbo charger...probably a more accessible 'model'.)

I have to stick by my comments about the 'over 1000degF' heat, though. The top of the stove is not exposed to the center of combustion and is probably seeing much less than 600degF. Unless you're using exotic alloys, or ceramics, placing thin metal in the center of combustion or even 2" above will more that likely bring it to it's melting point.

But, I'll certainly admit I could be wrong about the fan. It's just a gut feeling based on several decades of mechanical engineering design projects. Tell you what...if you build one that works and market it, I'll be the first guy in line to buy one from you!

Slightly different subject or 'When soot is not preferable to CO2';

The stove technology used here is common among designs targeted towards solving serious problems faced today in 3rd world countries. Typically, poorly vented indoor wood fires are used for preparing every meal as well as a heat source.

The point of these new designs of stoves (Google 'rocket stove') is to eliminate the (combustible) wood smoke in order to 1. Burn the fuel source much, much more efficiently, thus reducing deforestation, and 2. Lower the death rates due to the almost constant exposure to the toxic wood smoke.

Although the primary point of these newer designs has nothing to do with CO2 reduction, by burning half as much fuel, you are also cutting your CO2 production in half. That's 50%. Think about it. That's infinitely better than using 2 or 3 times as much fuel/CO2 in order to capture a thin layer of soot on the bottom of a pan. And reducing the amount of wood used each day also means more live trees left standing to deal with the CO2.

Thanks for responding.

oldhacker
16th June, 2010 @ 08:52 pm PDT

Look at the green stove being tested on this page:

http://www.biolitestove.com/NextGen_Cook_Stove.html

The basic principle of clean combustion mentioned above is not something new. It's traditionally has been used by villagers in Indonesia using a stove called Anglo. See: http://www.tembi.org/tembi/anglo.htm

Can we see that the basic construction is the same?

S.W. Waskito
25th July, 2010 @ 04:01 pm PDT

@ oldhacker: Like Homer Simpson used to say:"In this House we do obey to the Laws of Thermodynamics!"

:D

Alex Ante Machina
2nd June, 2011 @ 05:39 am PDT

windykites1 - I like your points above. There's a thing here in the U.K. (from Ireland in fact) called the Kelly Kettle (http://www.kellykettle.com ) that uses the updraft chimney effect of hot air and works a lot like a jet engine, is extremely efficient to boil water and works on dung, wood, paper etc. And its been around over a hundred years. Have a look as I think this answers your concerns and supports your ideas about how this should be done.

Kevin Ruston
27th July, 2011 @ 01:13 am PDT

Kevin. A bit late to reply, but I looked at the Kelly Kettle. What a great product. I love it! Shame I don't go camping! Thanks for the link.

windykites1
20th February, 2012 @ 09:11 am PST

This is a great idea. What would be even better is if you could peal off a small amount of electricity that could be use for other uses, to charge a cell phone, for exmaple, or power some LED Lights

Paul Russell
14th April, 2012 @ 08:31 pm PDT

Paul Russell: It already does...check their website or YouTube. They're shipping now, as well. I've gotten mine already. Works great. It's a little (OK, a lot) heavier than I would like for backpacking, but it looks like it was made by Nasa. :)

I think though, even for truck camping, I'm going to stick with one of my original New Zealand Thermettes. (Which is what Kevin Ruston's Irish Kelly Kettles were copied from.) It's a shame the Thermette isn't being made anymore, but Kelly Kettle, Eydon Kettle, Spinforms Ghillie-Kettle, and Backcountry Boiler all make great chimney kettles. I've got about 10 and they all work perfectly with no moving parts.

oldhacker
2nd July, 2012 @ 09:41 pm PDT

So many options here, however you all have missed a primary point of this heat source, it produces a source of power, a very important factor designed into this stove, power for free, not a lot but a small amount of power can do some very needed things in the case of a power failure, lots of great stoves and some cheaper too!! but! none produce any harvest of power!! like this stove was designed to do!!

Facebook User
21st July, 2012 @ 05:01 pm PDT

I have one of these and its awesome, the flame on top is like a jet engine, or a gas-fueled stove, boils water in under a minute(although it depends on the temperature i imagine). It lights pretty easily and its so hot that you can put in semi-damp material and its so efficient that it dries it out and combustes it quickly without the material drowning out the fire like it would in a normal fire or wood burning stove.

In the end your left with very fine white ash. it also throws off a fair amount of heat, we were using it to stay warm in the evening untill it got cold later in the night, and it doesnt use a ton of wood respecitvely, but my one complaint is it doesnt hold alot of wood so your constantly having to feed small bits to keep it going.

Nathaneal Blemings
10th October, 2012 @ 01:09 pm PDT

I had a Sierra ZipStove. (AA battery driven fan-forced woodstove.)

Woodstoves like this can be very hot for cooking and fast boil. It takes experience to know how much fuel to add to maintain only a simmer.

Yes, with such a small burner, you're feeding it almost continuously, but a "batch" of fuel should do a good amount of work.

I really like the USB port /charger adaptation.

John Frazer
16th April, 2013 @ 02:54 pm PDT
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