Innovations in mobile charging methods are coming fast and furious these days, from small solar panel setups and bicycle generators to kinetic energy harvesters, and providing more ways for people in the developing world to keep their phones charged and the lights powered.
Some of these are also helpful for providing power for gadgets when traveling off of the beaten path, such as this one, which turns your campstove or BBQ into a power source.
It's great to see devices that are designed to take advantage of an energy source that is already being generated for another purpose, in effect adding a "stacking" function to it, as is done in permaculture design. In this case, a fire-activated fuel cell is stacked on to the function of a charcoal cookstove that is already being used to cook food, which then generates enough power to charge a combination power pack and LED light unit.
The VOTO, from Point Source Power, is described as a "biomass-fueled" charger, and is designed to be placed under the charcoal in the bottom of a stove before cooking. The solid oxide fuel cell under the coals then converts carbon and hydrogen into electricity, and is described as a sort of reverse photosynthesis:
"Our fuel cells utilize the chemical energy stored in plants to directly produce electricity through a reaction that is essentially a mirror of the plant's natural process of photosynthesis. Plants convert sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide into carbon compounds and oxygen. Our cells use these carbon compounds and oxygen to produce electricity, heat, water, and carbon dioxide. We call this reversed process Votosynthesis. " - Point Source Power
According to the company, the VOTO is designed to be powered by burning charcoal, but can also use wood or other varieties of biomass that are used for cooking in the developing world. Accessories are available for directly charging cellphones and batteries from the device, as well as a stove insert for people who burn other materials than charcoal for cooking.
The VOTO is claimed to be able to be fully charged (4000 mAh, 1.2V; 4.8Wh) with as few as two cooking periods, and is ruggedly built to be able to handle both high temperatures and daily use. The device can also power its LED light for up to 30 hours when fully charged. The estimated cost for the handle of the VOTO is about $17 (USD), and the fuel cell will cost about $7, so it is a fairly low-cost option, although the fuel cell itself will need to be replaced after three or four months of steady use.
USB standard output: 5V ~500mA max
LED output: 25 lumens
6 5/8"L x 1 7/8"W x 1 3/8"H
Weight: 0.52 lbs (236 g)
According to Berkeley Lab, the product will be released commercially in Kenya this year, followed by a version designed for the camping and outdoors market in the United States.
Find out more at Point Source Power.