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The PowerPot Review

Testing The Power Pot
Testing The PowerPot

I finally got back to testing The PowerPot last week, an anodized aluminum cook pot that has a built-in thermocouple in its base that is capable of generating electricity from heat.

As you can see above, I was hoping to use up some partially filled gas canisters that I’ve had sitting around for a while because I assumed that The PowerPot would be a dog like the Biolite wood stove and take forever to generate power. Boy was I ever wrong!

The PowerPot blows the Biolite away in terms of power generation efficiency and speed. Not only that, it’s completely stove and fuel independent, so you can generate electricity using a wood stove, isobutane gas canisters, white gas/Coleman fuel, Esbit tablets, denatured alcohol, and propane. You can even use it on your stove at home to generate power in an emergency. This product is a game changer!

The Power Pot has a Thermocouple Built into its base that transforms heat into electricity
The Power Pot has a thermocouple built into its base that transforms heat into electricity

Components

While there are number of different PowerPot kits available from Power Practical, the makers of the PowerPot, every one has two basic components: a hard anodized aluminum pot with a thermocouple built into the base and a power cord with a female USB end and built-in meter that lights up when the PowerPot is generating electricity. The sample I received also included a small frying pan which can serve as a lid for the power generating pot and a 5 LED stick lamp that you can plug into the USB connector for instant gratification (it lights up) when the pot is generating power. But these two additional components are nice-to-haves and not essentials.

  • A 1.4 liter PowerPot with built-in power generating thermocouple (11.9 ounces)
  • A heat-resistant cable and power meter that plug into the pot with a female USB plug at the end (2.2 ounces)
The Power Pot generating electricity to power an LED stick lamp
The PowerPot generating electricity to power an LED stick lamp

How it Works

The PowerPot generates electricity using a thermocouple. This is a device that creates a voltage when there is a different temperature applied to each side of it. The thermocouple is welded onto the bottom of The PowerPot (the copper-colored base of the pot, shown the picture above.) The conversion of temperature differences into electricity was discovered in 1821 and is the origin of the term thermoelectricity.

To use The PowerPot, fill it with cold water and put it on top of a stove or wood fire. The colder the water, the better, because this will create the biggest difference between the cold side of the thermocouple which touches the bottom of the pot, and the hot side which faces your stove flame or wood fire.

In practice, you’ll find that The PowerPot will generate electricity faster when you add cold water to the pot and that the rate of electricity generation will slow down the hotter the water becomes. For optimum performance, it’s probably best to get the water you put into the pot directly from a cold water source like a spring or stream, or from snowmelt, rather than using water that has warmed to air temperature.

Recharging Different Device Types with the Power Pot
Charging different USB-enabled devices with the PowerPot (headlamp, smart phone, external battery pack, light)

Recharging Fuel Amounts

I recharged a number of different USB powered devices when I tested the PowerPot including a Samsung Smart Phone, a USB external battery and the USB battery pack of an LED Headlamp. Since I was using isobutane canisters, I was mainly interested in the amount of fuel required to recharge these devices rather than the speed because that would be the limiting factor in your ability to charge, say a cellphone, if canister fuel was the only fuel source you had available (or were legally able to use) on a backcountry trip.

After a series of test, I found it required 1.0 ounce of isobutane fuel, on average, to generate a 7.5% increase in the charge of my smart phone – more than enough for an emergency phone call or text message.

Granted, these tests were purely anecdotal and I didn’t control for stove make or model, isobutane fuel mix, flame size, fuel type, wind speed, battery type, external air temperature, and start or stopping water temperature. Still this result was extremely compelling for me and convinced me about the value of the PowerPot for backcountry use, since I often camp with canister gas.

Practical Considerations

One ounce of isobutane fuel can be quite a significant amount of a long trip and you wouldn’t want to “spend” it just to generate electricity for your cell phone unless it were an emergency. As a matter of everyday practice, you’d probably collect the energy generated by The PowerPot when you boiled water for dinner as a by-product of the cooking process rather than using it just for power generation.

For longer trips, cooking with wood or some other plentiful fuel source that you don’t have to carry is the way to go. In that case, the amount of energy you could generate with the PowerPot would be only limited by the amount of fuel you could collect.

Likes

  • Fuel independent
  • Fast charging (5W output)
  • Heat resistant charging cord

Dislikes

  • A flat lid should be provided with the pot
  • Not recommended for cooking, only boiling water
  • A lighter weight,smaller volume UL version would be nice

Recommendation

I’m impressed with the PowerPot. Quite impressed. This is one of the most efficient power generating options available today for backpackers and campers who are off-the-grid for extended periods of time but need electricity to recharge battery-powered devices. If you’re using a solar charger/battery pack combo like the PowerMonkey Extreme (16 ounces) or the Goal Zero Guide 10 Plus Solar Kit (19 ounces) for backpacking adventures, you should take a look at using the PowerPot instead. It’s a lighter weight solution (14.1 ounces) that is seasonally and weather independent. Now if they’d only come out with a still lighter and smaller UL version.

Disclosure: Philip Werner (SectionHiker.com) received a sample PowerPot from Power Practical for this review. 

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12 comments

  1. “As a matter of everyday practice, you’d probably collect the energy generated by The PowerPot when you boiled water for dinner as a by-product of the cooking process rather than using it just for power generation.”

    There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch in energy. If some of the heat content of the fuel is going into power generation, then it’s not available for heating the water. It’d be interesting to compare the amount of fuel needed to boil a liter of water in the PowerPot vs. the amount needed for a plain pot without the thermocouple attached.

    • I guess it would be interesting to some people. Frankly, I think such tests are a Theater of the Absurd because they are done so poorly without any kind of defensible methodology.

      I wrote about this over the summer: http://sectionhiker.com/alcohol-stove-boil-time-videros-theater-of-the-absurd/

      If you cook with wood, just add a few more sticks to your wood stove. Why bother measuring anything?

      Just playing devils advocate.

    • The Soto Micro Regulator is spec’d at 3260 W. The thermocouple can extract 5 W from that- that’s 0.15%. You would have an extremely hard time measuring that.

      You can argue that the thermocouple isn’t 100% efficient, and that’s true, but I bet the energy is still there in the system and available to boil water.

  2. I go to the woods to get away from the electronics. The last thing I want to do is drag this out to power stuff I don’t want to carry in the first place. Nice idea but not for me.

    BTW – Mike you are right – there are no free lunches when it comes to power generation. You will need to burn more fuel to power and boil. If you use wood then true – use a few more sticks. If you are carrying canisters – you need to plan that in advance.

  3. Have you tried it yet with the Solo wood stove? Any worries about melting the wire to the device? As for a lid, Minibull design makes lids for several different pots and one might work for this one. I use their lid on my Walmart Imusa aluminum pot.

    • I’ve used the PowerPot with some other wood stoves and not had any issues with burning or melting the power cord running up it’s outside. The thing seems imperious to fire. The biggest issue is boiling off your water and burning the pot and thermocouple through, but you have that problem with any pot.

      This thing isn’t a gimmick – it really is a very viable camping and power generation solution if you MUST generate additional electricity on a trip. I think it’s a rather brilliant application of the same technology used in home thermostats today.

      • The biggest application for this is the space program. The latest Mars rover and all the deep space probes are powered by RTG’s – using decaying plutonium as the heat source.

      • I guess that “battery” lasts a long time.

      • Interesting. I use my phone a lot on hiking trips for a clock, e-reader, and to let the missus know I have not been eaten by a bear. Usually I just carry a few extra batteries for both the phone and my head lamp but this could be a good replacement.

      • yep, multi-use item. not that much heavier than other 1 liter pots – the only real limitation is that you can only boil water with it, but most people are fine with that if they eat Mountain house or FBC.

  4. Another battery option would be the Goal Zero Switch 8. I’ve successfully used it with solar collectors and to juice up cell phones. The Guide 10 has the advantage that the power storage units happen to be AA NiMH cells that are useful in their own right. (I also own one of these. Yes, I’m a gadget-hound).

  5. What do you mean with
    “Not recommended for cooking, only boiling water”

    Do you or does the producer recommend this?

    It would be pretty useless to carry a two pound pot around just to cook water and generate electricity – and to have to carry another pot for real cooking

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