Dartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of EngineeringDartmouth Engineer - The Magazine of Thayer School of Engineering

Recharging New York by CampStove

By Anna Fiorentino
December 2012 • CoolStuff

BioLite engineers offered powerless Sandy survivors a way to charge their phones.
BioLite engineers offered powerless Sandy survivors a way to charge their phones.

Restless New Yorkers found a bright light in a city without power after Hurricane Sandy. A stand, popped up by a group of engineers in Washington Square, held what appeared to be a century-old device—a camp stove. But a sign hanging from the table reading "Charge Your Phone" implied the opposite.

This modern gadget known as a BioLite CampStove, invented by Dartmouth engineer and avid camper Jonathan Cedar '03 and Alexander Drummond, converts heat from the fire into usable electricity using renewable resources for fuel instead of petroleum. BioLite's humanitarian response to Sandy had those thrown off the grid flocking from all over Manhattan to sip a cup of coffee while they waited for their phone to charge.

When a fire is lit inside BioLite CampStove's metal fuel chamber, a thermoelectric generator converts the heat into electricity to run a fan. The air from the fan then oxygenates the fire and creates a clean burn. As noted in the recent issue of Dartmouth Engineer, the excess power of up to four watts can charge small electronic devices through a USB port—making this CampStove a hot little commodity during a power outage.

"After additional pop-up stations in DUMBO (near BioLite's Brooklyn Headquarters) and by City Hall Plaza, traffic spiked, emails poured in, and we depleted our inventory within a week," says BioLite intern Joel Kaushansky, who was among those BioLite engineers in NYC. "Several requests came in asking 'Where will you pop up next?' and 'Can you donate stoves to our relief efforts?,' which posed a logistical challenge for us: how do we deploy these safely and effectively to the areas that need it most?"

The engineers from BioLite donated and transported 18 CampStove kits to an emergency distribution center in Queens. Each included a CampStove, wood pellet fuel, fire starters, and additional safety instructions.

The experience gave the young company, which supplies the CampStove as well as a biomass cookstove called HomeStove to 70 developing countries, a chance to test their stoves in a large scale emergency and within an urban environment for the first time—and peace of mind that they had helped those hit hardest by Sandy.

"While much of BioLite's work focuses on energy access in developing countries, Hurricane Sandy was a palpable reminder of the need for energy security here at home," says Cedar, BioLite Chief Executive Officer. "I was really proud that our team was so eager to help."

Tags: alumni, energy, entrepreneurship, innovation

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