Today we received our thermo-electric saucepan from TES New Energy. You can see some pictures of it below.
This amazing device provides a full-powered USB port when placed on a fire by using thermo-electric generation.
The interesting innovation is that by incorporating the thermo-couples into a saucepan the water in the pot keeps one side of the junction cool to maximise the power output, while ensuring that the about 98% of heat that the thermo-couple cannot turn into electricity heats your water.
This also means that they can use different types of thermo-couples that work better at different temperatures. The hot-side of the pan uses lower-efficiency thermo-couples that can tolerate the higher temperatures, and the "cold" side of that is joined to the hot side of the lower-temperature thermo-couple which is also a little more efficient, and the water in the pan helps to make sure that this lower-temperature thermo-couple does not over heat. Together, they avoid the complications that would normally be present if using only one of the thermo-couples, either lower yield, or the potential to be damaged by higher-temperature fires.
The saucepan approach is also an elegant way to circumvent the atrocious inefficiency that typically plagues thermo-electric generators, since in a diaster or remote location you probably need hot water, anyway, a realisation that TES NewEnergy had following the mega earthquake that struck Japan recently.
So this saucepan is about enough to charge a phone if you are in the middle of nowhere, and solar isn't an option for whatever reason -- perhaps because the power is out due to storm, volcano, or just during bad weather.
Anyway, we are looking forward to some fun testing Serval mesh phones powered by a high-tech saucepan on a campfire.