Japanese gadget charges cellphone via campfire

Posted by David Gomez

A Japanese company has come up with an interesting new way to charge a mobile phone. It involves heating a pot of water over a fire.

According to AFP, the Hatsuden-Nabe thermo-electric cookpot can turn heat from boiling water into electric energy that transfers via a USB port into high-tech devices like smartphones, music players, and global positioning systems.

The creator of this low-tech/high-tech solution is TES NewEnergy. They are based in the city of Osaka and they started selling the device in Japan this month for 24,150 yen or $299.  They also have future plans to market it in developing countries with unreliable power grids.

Chief executive Kazuhiro Fujita said the invention’s development was motivated by Japan's March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left 23,000 people dead or missing. The devastation that was unleashed left hundreds of thousands of people homeless.

"When I saw the TV footage of the quake victims making a fire to keep themselves warm, I came up with the idea of helping them to charge their mobile phones at the same time," Fujita said.

The pot has strips of ceramic thermoelectric material that produce electricity through differences in temperature between the 550 degrees Celsius at the bottom of the pot and the water boiling inside at 100 degrees.

The company claims the device is able to charge an iPhone in three to five hours and it can heat up your lunch at the same time.

"Unlike a solar power generator, our pot can be used regardless of time of day and weather while its small size allows people to easily carry it in a bag in case of evacuation," said director and co-developer Ryoji Funahashi.

TES NewEnergy was founded in 2010 to promote products based on technology developed at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology, which is Japan's largest public research organization.

They also make products that transform residual heat from industrial waste furnaces into electricity.

The company says the pot will be used predominantly in emergency situations and for outdoor activities. It might also have some use in developing countries.

"There are many places around the world that lack the electric power supply for charging mobile phones," Fujita said.

"In some African countries, for example, it's a bother for people to walk to places where they can charge mobile phones. We would like to offer our invention to those people."

The quirky method of charging is more than just a gimmick. It might actually come in handy if you live in a part of the world that has to deal with earthquakes, dangerous weather, or lousy power grids.