BioLite stove products are making camping and cooking with wood more eco-friendly, and providing an off-grid power source for charging phones, lights, and other electronics where there is no sun or wind.
There has been a flurry of new products offering an off-grid power supply. Bio-Lite is one of the most innovative.
A brainchild of New York-based, Smart Design, BioLite is a wood-burning stove that utilizes its own thermal energy to burn wood as cleanly as gas. Amazingly, it also converts waste heat into electricity, powering not only a combustion-improving fan, but also electricity to charge phones, lights, and other electronics off the grid.
The business launched with engineers Jonathan Cedar and Andrew Drummond developing the BioLite Camp Stove, a portable stove that eliminates the need for petrol or petroleum gas, and reduces the amount of smoke emissions. “In the very beginning, we only looked at camping products,” recalls Cedar. “In 2008, we took our early prototypes of the Camp Stove to a conference that focused on people in developing countries – who do most of their cooking on open fires.
From 2008 onward, BioLite created a hybrid model, where they would incubate core technologies that could be commercialized across both developed and developing markets. The near-term revenue from selling CampStoves in outdoor recreation markets helped to incubate the introduction of the HomeStove in developing areas, which is a bigger model than the CampStove. During the design process of the HomeStove, Cedar notes how one of the biggest challenges was really understanding the needs of the users in the developing countries. “Their needs were less familiar to us than the camping users,” says Cedar. “We spent a lot of time in the field in India, Ghana, and Uganda, so we could get a sense of how our products were being used. We looked at ways to refine our products, and made sure they met the local cooking habits.” Converting Waste Heat into Electricity Both the BioLite HomeStove and CampStove use the same sophisticated technology that, according to Cedar, required substantial prototyping and testing to arrive at the final design.
BioLite used CAD software programs, such asSolidWorks and ProEngineer to figure out the geometries of the design, and Computational Fluid Design to simulate the heat exchange that occurs in each of the stoves. To convert the waste heat from the wood fire into electricity, the stoves use solid-state devices called thermoelectric generators. Electricity from the system is used first to power a fan, which pumps extra oxygen into the fire, causing the smoke to essentially reburn, making the stoves super clean.
The excess electricity is then made available to users for charging small electronic devices, such as mobile phones, LED lights, GPS, and many others. “One thing that is really interesting about our energy system is that it’s on demand,” says Cedar. “When you light a fire, there’s immediately electricity for you to charge things, which is very different from solar power. Solar power creates small amounts of energy over longer periods of time and only when it’s in the sun. We create twice as much power as a typical, small-scale solar charger, and we are not dependent on time of day, weather, or direct sunlight.”
As well as decreasing emissions, BioLite’s CampStove and HomeStove offer other advantages. For the camping market, campers do not have to carry fuel with them, which can take up space and be strenuous to carry (depending on the container size). Unlikely to run out of fuel, because they can use any local wood another big advantage is “right now, there are no stoves available that will charge your electronics,” states Cedar. “More and more people are carrying their cell phones, GPS, and LED lamps out into the woods with them, and they have no way to keep them charged.”
BioLite considers itself a consumer-facing company that services a broad range of energy needs for off-grid clients. “Whether that’s in developing countries, recreational markets, or emergency situations, we want to be the leading developer and manufacturer of off-grid energy services,” says Cedar. “Right now we are starting specifically in the cooking-end, but we will be moving broadly into the energy market, with a range of technologies that consumers haven’t really seen before.”
Buy our book - OFF THE GRID - a tour of American off-grid places and people written by Nick Rosen, editor of the off-grid.net web site