- Title: Spark of genius?
- Date: 25th November 2016
- Summary: VARIOUS OF OWEN WORKING ON DESIGN ON LAPTOP/GRAPHICS ON COMPUTER SCREEN
- Embargoed: 10th December 2016 15:37
- Keywords: Seattle electricity Jikopower Spark developing world Kenya biofuel Ryan Ahearn
- Location: SEATTLE, USA / VARIOUS LOCATIONS
- Reuters ID: LVA00359Y1YSB
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: A group of students and graduates from Seattle's University of Washington have developed a device that can generate electricity when exposed to an open flame.
Their target market is the 600 million people in the developing world who have cellphones but no electricity at home to charge them.
The developers, drawn from the university's engineering department and business school, have launched a start-up company called JikoPower. The first part of its name comes from the Swahili word for 'stove'.
JikoPower CEO Ryan Ahearn believes their device, the Spark, could be a game changer for developing world cellphone users.
"For someone in the developing world having a cellphone provides them access to education, commerce, communication that they can't experience without it. The JikoPower Spark allows them to utilize all of those things to their full potential."
Aaron Owens is one of those responsible for the Spark's design of the Spark and explained to Reuters how the device integrates with life in the developing world.
"Everyone over there is using biofuel cook stoves, cooking six or more hours a day and, as engineers, we know that's a lot of heat energy being created and most of it just evaporates into the air. So if we can harvest just a little bit of that and turn that into electricity we can actually provide really useful power that these people need."
Without giving away patent-pending secrets he also described the basic principle that enables the unit to generate up to two and a half watts of power.
"We use a device, a thermoelectric material that generates electricity when there's two separate temperatures across its two faces. So we heat up one end in the fire and then have a water reservoir in the center that keeps the other side of the material cool and, as heat flows through this, a temperature differential is created that induces a current through the material and which is electricity that we can convert and charge a phone with."
Having demonstrated that the device works in laboratory-style conditions JikoPower knew that it needed to prove it would also work in the field. The team assembled 100 Spark units and headed to Kenya. In the villages of the Maasai Mara they demonstrated the Spark to women who keep fires burning for hours in order to cook but have no electricity for charging their phones.
While the biggest market for Spark may be in the developing world the JikoPower team also sees applications in the developed world. The Spark can be used when camping and also in the event of a civil disaster or just a simple power outage.
For Ahearn it's a valuable secondary market.
"If the power goes out here at home people don't have access to cellphones anymore. They don't have access to light. The Spark is durable and versatile and can be used with any heat source to charge a phone and light their home."
JikoPower still has some way to go to transition from start-up to fully-fledged business but Ahearn is already looking to the future.
"The next steps for JikoPower are that we're running a Kickstarter to help us generate our first orders," Ahearn said. "We're getting ready to begin mass production of the Spark. After that we hope to develop a line of clean energy products focused on triple bottom line solutions, meaning that they have a social impact, an environmental impact and an economic impact."
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