Why you should care
It’s efficient, planet-friendly … and lets you check Twitter around the campfire.
Camping outdoors can be wonderful: the satisfaction of building your tent and stoking a fire, hiking through nature. But losing your creature comforts … not so much fun. Sure, you don’t need to be on your phone 24/7, but it’s nice to be able to Instagram those #waterfallselfie shots.
The capricious nature of cellphone batteries means it’s unlikely you’ll have power very long. So what’s an insta-addict to do? Solar-powered chargers are available, but you need sunlight, which isn’t always a given. Plus, many need to lie outside during the day — not ideal if you’re hiking and don’t want it to wander. This frustrated materials science student Andrew Byrnes, who started to think about creating an alternative source of energy. His solution: firepower — well, heat from the fire, to be precise.
The inch-thick charger weighs 10 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand.
He teamed up with classmate Adam Kell to build the FlameStower, a portable charger that uses thermoelectricity to power a cellphone. Measuring in at 7.7-by-2.2 inches, the inch-thick charger weighs 10 ounces and fits in the palm of your hand. The charger folds out to reveal a pop-out red water cup at one end, and the other end creates an upright stand for the cup. To use, fill the cup with water and place that end over the fire, then connect any device to the USB cable port. It will start charging immediately.
Byrnes wants the FlameStower to be more than just a device for campers. He’s concerned with global energy needs and believes it can make a difference in emerging markets, where electricity is spotty. “Hundreds of people have mobile handsets with no access to electricity, so they can’t access their technology,” he told OZY. Mobile technology can change lives; it provides access to education and opportunities and FlameStower’s mission is getting into developing countries at a low price point. They’re collaborating with Grupo EBIS, which has been sending energy-efficient Eco-Stoves to rural Guatemalan families who will now be equipped with the FlameStower to help them access off-grid electricity.
However, it’s not a perfect solution. The actual charge time is slow. For example, one minute of fire equals three minutes talk-time. Still, this is an improvement on Version 1; the latest version, FlameStower2, boosts charging by 30 percent. And then there’s the issue of getting your precious smartphone close to the elements. “You’re literally playing with fire AND water to charge your devices,” says Ali Heriyanto, managing editor at tech blog ChipChick.
Byrnes has plans to release a new product from his San Francisco office later this year — the Candle Charger. This was created after requests for an item that could be used indoors, or in blackouts. He says he was surprised by the demand, but it’s something that the growing number of American doomsday preppers — estimated at 3.7 million — think could be great.
It’s a new twist on the old adage: Where there’s smoke there’s fire. In this case, there’s power.