Sustainable Energy

How to charge your phone in the great outdoors

Anmar Frangoul | Special to

Camping used to be about getting back to nature: Clean air, beautiful scenery and a roaring fire. Yet more and more of us expect to use technology wherever and whenever we like. How then, to square getting back to nature with updating your Instagram or Twitter feed?

One company has designed a device that allows campers to stay happy and keep in touch with civilization. Californian start-up Stower has developed the FlameStower, a portable device that charges cell phones using energy from fire, including campfires, stoves and barbecues.

The FlameStower is for "Anybody who has a mobile handset and who has times when they don't have access to grid-based electricity or reliable electricity," Andrew Byrnes, co-founder and CEO of Stower, told CNBC last week.

The device weighs only 10 ounces and charging one for 20 minutes should give users 40 minutes of "phone time."

Energy efficient


A blade on the FlameStower is put in the fire, with the heat energy transferred to a thermoelectric generator. The other part of the generator is placed in a water reservoir and the difference in temperature between the two parts generates electricity.

"If you make one side of the semi-conductor hot and you keep the other side of the semi-conductor at a much lower temperature, that'll produce an electric current," Byrnes told CNBC.

He added that the device was energy-efficient because it uses "waste heat from regular cooking fires that you use in the outdoors."

Byrnes described Stower as "an energy company—and what we're really good at is charging phones."

The startup, which is currently raising money on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, has also developed the Candle Charger, which uses a candle and water to generate electricity.

Stower says the Candle Charger is the "first indoor power plant for smartphones" and is designed for home usage during grid outages and blackout.

Cooking up a sustainable storm

It's not just cell phone users that are benefiting from innovative climate-friendly outdoor technology, though. Those wanting to cook up a storm in the great outdoors can now do so using ovens and barbecues fueled by the sun's rays, instead of charcoal, wood, electricity or gas.

One Earth Designs, for example, offers SolSource, a cooking device that harnesses the abundant heat and light of the sun, using patented mirror technology.

Sunlight bounces off the device's reflective panels, hitting the bottom of whatever pot or pan is placed on it. The cookware absorbs this heat, with the panels remaining safe to touch because they do not absorb light.

Torbjørn Buvarp

"The parabolic dish concentrates all the heat, all the sun rays, in one specific place," Guro Grytli Seim, Europe Managing Director of One Earth Designs, told CNBC in a phone interview.

The parabola is made of a patented polymer that is durable and scratch resistant. Although the device can reach temperatures of 350 degrees Celsius, outdoor temperatures do not affect its functionality, said Grytli Seim.

The company says it is also working on incorporating what it describes as "novel" solar battery technology that would enable people to cook - as well as charge their phones - when the sun's not out.

The SolSource is incredibly efficient, according to One Earth Designs, which says that it converts over 90 percent of the sunlight that hits it into heat.

"During the product's lifetime, SolSource is able to… prevent 20,000 kilos of CO2 emissions," Grytli Seim said.

Global aspirations

Currently, the main market for the SolSource – which retails for $549 – is in the developed world, but the company has ambitions to help people in poorer countries.

With that in mind, One Earth Designs is structured as both as a non-profit and a for-profit company, in the hope of benefiting some of the world's poorest. It has offices in Hong Kong, mainland China and Cambridge, Massachusetts.

More than 5,000 people in rural communities have benefited from using the SolSource since 2012, with partners now being sought to help distribute it across the planet.

Gaza ingenuity

The need for efficient and reliable energy supplies has inspired innovation in some of the world's most challenging areas to live.

In the contested Gaza Strip, for instance, one community is already benefiting from the ingenuity of a local resident.

Khaled Bashir has designed and built a solar oven that heats to 140 degrees Celsius, in order to help people living without a regular electricity supply cook their food off-grid.

Bashir built his first oven in 2000, according to an article on the website of Gisha, an Israeli not-for-profit organisation that seeks to "protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents."

"I'm not doing this for profit," Bashir told Gisha, adding, "I want to see the young people of Gaza turn to alternative energy. My house is open, and I'm willing to share my knowledge."