Terra Firma Adventures

Thermoelectric Generators

Kristopher Artz November,2012 No Comments

Nearly all of our daily activities involve or include electronic technology to some degree… even the ones in which we consciously choose to try to escape the fast paced, everyday lifestyle we exist in. Whether it’s a GPS device or smart phone with GPS capability that we use to find our desired solitude, a rechargeable LED headlamp that helps us to see in the dark, or the digital camera that helps us to document and remember our adventure, there exists a need to recharge these electronic devices.

Here are two different approaches that use the same technology to get at the same result… heat food or water and charge small electronic devices.

First of all, how does a thermoelectric generator work? Well, the simplest explanation is that a thermoelectric module contains a hot plate and a cold plate. These plates are connected with electrical circuits. When there is a difference in temperature between the 2 modules or sides, electrical current is created as electrons flow from one temp side to the other. This current is then used to charge small electronic devices that use a USB plug.

Lets’ get into the different approaches these products take, starting with the Powerpot      www.thepowerpot.com 

The Powerpot  is a pot that you fill with water and place directly onto any heat source. This may be a campfire or a propane or alcohol stove. Once the heat is applied, the current begins to charge your USB device. The flexability in the product is that you can put it onto any heat source available. When I go backpacking I typically use either my Jetboil Flash or my MSR Pocket Rocket Stove to heat water for drinks or food. I am used to having to plan out how much canister fuel I need to take along with me, and having to make enough room in my pack for it. So, the fact that I need to take fuel along isn’t that big of a deal for me. With this product I could just place it on top of my Pocket Rocket Stove and when I fire it up, charge my smart phone ( I now mainly use for my GPS and digital camera). If I have a small campfire, I could place it directly above the flame and charge my device that way as well. I love the idea of being able to use whatever is convenient at the time, and that I can charge my device a little bit while I’m quickly heating water on my stove or a lot while I’m leisurely sitting around a small campfire.

Photos courtesy of Powerpot

The next Thermoelectric generator is the BioLite Campstove.    www.biolitestove.com 

The name describes how this product is different from the Powerpot. This is a cookstove, not a pot. It requires you to take a pot or skillet or what ever you would typically use to boil water or cook in. I don’t see this as a drawback. As I described above, I typically use a small stove that requires fuel canisters  and I place a small pot on top of  it to heat water. Since this is my typical means, I usually plan for the weight and space requirements of my camping pot, so having to take one along isn’t an issue. Where this campstove becomes beneficial is that you no longer have to pack in fuel canisters because the unit is a small rocket stove, thus saving space, fuel weight and having to pack out empty canisters. Rocket stoves direct heat from flames in an upward and focused location to very efficiently and effectively heat liquids or heat pans. They use much less wood (bio fuel) than conventional campfires, and the nice thing about this stove is the fire is self contained. No need to find an existing fire pit or create that ring of rocks to contain a small fire. You gather small kindling sized wood fuel to place within the stove when you want to heat and charge your devices.

Photos courtesy of BioLite

My take on each of these products is that each ones very different approach can be desirable in so many unique situations or appeal to various consumer preferences. Both are good looking, but especially like the aesthetics of the Biolite campstove. If I had to choose one product over the other, I honestly don’t know which approach I would take. If price were not an option, I quite possibly would get one of each since the combination would allow me the most flexability. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to try either of these products I cannot make a personal recommendation. I could say that $114 for a backpacking campstove seems like a lot, but the Jetboil systems cost near that and with the Biolite your getting a device charger as well. I could also argue that $139 for a camping pot is excessive, but again your getting more than a simple camping pot, your purchasing the ability to charge your devices too. When it comes to charging small electronics, nothing is very inexpensive. Small solar panels are costly and solar can often be unreliable or not even possible (in the dark), so I think either of these products outperforms solar chargers in my mind (assuming they adequately charge devices as advertised). I’m sorry I cannot be more help in actually reviewing the performance of these products. I guess the intent of this post is to let you know that there are some great new products out there that perform these multiple functions and as time goes on, I’m sure they will continue to progress and get better. If you have any experiences with either of these products, please feel free to comment below, and if/when I get the opportunity to test them, I will certainly report back.

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