BioLite refers to its latest product as a "major tune-up" for outdoor fires, boasting that it burns more efficiently and puts out less smoke, while still offering a great view of the fire.
Sitting around a fire, whether it's for backyard social gatherings or backcountry cooking, is an age-old pastime with a big drawback -- the smoke and soot that gets broadcast into the air, and then breathed into our lungs. A campfire can also be rather inefficient when it comes to the amount of fuel that gets burned for the amount of heat that's 'harvested' for warmth or for cooking. And while that's just an avoidable issue in the developed world, some 2.9 billion people around the world rely on dirty cooking fuels, and the smoke and soot from open cooking fires and stoves is a huge contributor to indoor air pollution, which is a leading cause of death around the globe, right behind heart disease, lung disease, and respiratory infections.
One company that's been taking on the cleaner cooking challenge is BioLite, which developed a portable "smokeless" campstove and then its large format HomeStove, both of which are designed to burn much more efficiently, cutting fuel consumption in half and cutting harmful emissions by 90%, while also generating electricity to charge mobile devices. For the weekend camper or outdoor enthusiast, a small cookstove like the BioLite CampStove that doesn't require a fossil fuel source but instead uses handfuls of small biomass materials (such as twigs and windfall branches), and which can also keep your phone charged, can be a handy addition. And for those in the developing world who still rely on dirty cookstoves to feed their families, using a HomeStove can literally be a lifesaver by providing both a clean cooking option and an independent power supply.
But when it comes to having a campfire for pleasure, or when choosing to grill foods, both of which seem to be the usual reason that those of us in the developed world use open combustion and expose ourselves to soot and smoke, you just can't substitute it with an enclosed fire, because part of the experience is in the watching of the flames. BioLite's new FirePit aims to offer a cleaner backyard fire experience that can use up to 50% less fuel (wood or charcoal), while also reducing harmful emissions, by facilitating a more efficient combustion process through the injection of additional air into the fire with a battery-powered fan system.
"FirePit uses 51 air jets that inject the fire with oxygen along key locations thanks to the fan located inside the USB-rechargeable orange power pack. This creates a more uniform temperature and mixing of gases inside the fire which dramatically improves combustion. The airflow system has 4 fan speeds to control the intensity of your flames. For a mellow campfire, the user tunes it to level one; for a powerful fire that radiates a lot of heat, the user turns it up to level 4.
"By injecting a steady flow rate of air into the fire this way, FirePit is able to optimize combustion, eliminating the “wasted fuel” that results in smoke, but keeping the crackling, smell, and feel of a robust wood fire. This also means FirePit requires about half the fuel of a conventional open fire and reduces the particulate matter and carbon emissions." - BioLite
The FirePit is designed to go with you to tailgate parties, outdoor gatherings, or on camping trips, as it has folding legs and comes with a waterproof carrying case that also incorporates a solar charger for the device's power source, a 10,500 mAh battery pack. According to BioLite, it takes the solar cover about 4 or 5 days to fully charge the FirePit, stating that the intention is to be able to power a weekend's worth of burning, while using the rest of the week to fully charge it with solar energy. The battery pack is detachable for micro-USB charging if a quicker charge is desired.
"Sitting around a campfire at a beach, barbeque, or campsite is one of life’s best outdoor experiences, but the moment can be ruined by strong smoke that stings eyes and sparks coughing fits. While propane fire pits are smokeless, they’re also artificial, lacking the crackle, smell, and feel of a real campfire. The FirePit combines everything you love about fire with technology that reduces smoke and fuel and adds convenience." - Jonathan Cedar, BioLite co-founder and CEO
At just under 20 pounds, the FirePit is probably not a good fit for backpacking trips, but is light and small enough (27" long by 13" wide by 10.5" high when folded) to be portable, and with the battery pack capable of running for as long as 24 hours on the low setting, and 5 hours on the highest setting, it could start off being used to grill food for dinner and then transition into burning wood for the rest of the evening.
And of course there's an app for it, 'cause it's 2017 and why the heck not? The companion app, which isn't required to use the FirePit, allows the user to monitor the battery life and see the runtime of the device, as well as to remotely adjust the fan setting
There's no mention of the use of a thermoelectric generator in the FirePit materials, which is one of the core features of other BioLite stoves, as the specs only state the ability to charge the battery pack with the solar cover or via a micro-USB connection, but perhaps using a thermoelectric generator to charge the battery pack that's 'fueling' the fire isn't effective, even though it seems like an obvious choice from a layman's perspective. In the FAQs for the FirePit Kickstarter campaign, the company gives the potentially high cost as one of the reasons for this, saying "If we included thermoelectrics in a design of this scale, the unit would cost upwards of $400-$600 and we didn't want to just do tech for tech's sake. Realizing that we wanted the system to still be self-reliant and self-charging, we opted for a solar cover as a companion to the unit."
BioLite has taken to Kickstarter to launch the FirePit, and has already tripled its goal of raising $100,000 from backers in less than a day. Backers at the $199 level will be among the first to receive a FirePit and a solar carrying case when they ship sometime in May of 2018.