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GadgeTell Review: PowerPot V Thermoelectric Generator

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Solar power is a popular choice for camping and outdoor activities. Sunlight is free, and a good solar panel can collect a lot of energy during the course of a day, enough to fully charge most smartphones (and then some).

But what happens when it’s too cloudy, or once the sun sets? That’s where the PowerPot V truly shines, due to it being a thermoelectric generator. This gadget turns boiling water into useable energy, providing users a means to charge their USB devices whenever they wish.

Design

Power Practical Power Pot lid

Looks great, and the lid fits well

Right out of the box, the PowerPot V’s design fits in with the modern styling of camping cookware by top manufacturers.

The brushed aluminum looks great, and it will look better over time as it collects light scratches or discoloration. Like a favorite pair of trusted, comfortable jeans.

The handles on the pot and lid fold out neatly. They’re built well and secure, resisting my vigorous attempts to shake them loose.

The lid (technically, I consider it a bowl first and lid second in terms of use) fits neatly on top of the pot. It’s also the perfect size to heat up a 16oz half-can of Bush’s Best Baked Beans.

The PowerPot V also comes with one of Power Practical’s fast-charge cables as well as a flexible-neck USB LED light. The cable provides 30-pin, Mini USB, and Micro USB connectors, which covers pretty much every gadget out there (except Lightning).

Power Practical Power Pot bowl

These camping staples fit perfectly in the bowl for cooking/heating

Whenever I feel like the two unused ends get in the way too much, I just remind myself how I dread using adapter-tip-type cables. I’ll take Power Practical’s flat charge cable any day.

The included USB light is actually a really nice accessory. When I was unboxing the PowerPot V, I initially shrugged it off like, “oh.. a light.” After plugging it in and staring at the wrong end, my reaction switched to, “AH.. MY EYES!” This light is pretty darn bright. It’s more than powerful enough to read a book by, moderately illuminate a 10-person tent, or safely navigate a campground in the middle of the night.

Charging With The PowerPot V

The real test of the PowerPot V comes down to how well (and how easy) it delivers a charge. I felt that my stove’s coil burners would be a good test for ideal conditions.

Power Practical Power Pot food

More camping staples!

Even with the PowerPot V 3/4 full with room-temperature water, it takes less than a minute for it to start charging once the burner has been turned on. I brought the water to a rolling boil, then adjusted the heat down until it was gentle.

During this time, the output (measured by Power Practical’s Practical Meter) maintained a consistent 2W output. After almost an hour of charging like this, my HTC smartphone gained 15% in battery life, roughly 240mAh. It’s not terrible. Certainly keeps a smartphone out of the red.

But we all know that a PowerPot V is meant more for outside use, so the next step was seeing how well coals would work. I lit a pile of 65 briquettes – enough to cook a few steaks well-done. Once they were good and hot, I left the PowerPot V above the coals for awhile.

Power Practical Power Pot LED

This is the business end

The output never went above 1W, so I decided to set the pot directly on the coals themselves. After a full hour, the water never reached a boil (no surprise) and the smartphone neither gained nor lost any energy.

The temperature outside was only 62 degrees F, and there was no wind.

While an actual wood fire may produce better results than coals, most of actual cooking done while camping is by propane gas. So I pulled out my Coleman stove and fired it up. This time, I let the water maintain a rolling boil (cranked the gas) just to see what kind of limits I could reach with the PowerPot V.

The output fluctuated between 3 and 4 Watts. In the end, 20 minutes of boiling charged the phone by 10%, or 155mAh. Not bad. After an hour, the HTC smartphone gained a total 31% battery life.

While attending CES 2014, I had the chance to stop by the Power Practical booth in the Venetian. They said that a 5W output requires the heat source to have more concentration in the center of the bottom of the pot. They demonstrated to me how a backpacking stove achieves what a coil burner and Coleman gas camping stove can’t do so well. So that’s the answer there!

The only time the handles and charging cord were too hot to touch was when the PowerPot V was working over the coals. They do get a little warm over gas or a coil burner, but to any point of true concern.

Advanced Cooking

Power Practical Power Pot double boiler

Double boiler made possible

Unless we’re going to be living off of coffee and/or meals requiring only hot water to make, the PowerPot V may not seem like a practical source of power. But I have two words: double boiler.

Using the double boiler as cooking technique is commonly associated with the melting of chocolate chips (without them seizing up). I took a large metal paperclip and bent it to form a crude.. thing (just check the photo to the right and you can name it for me).

Either way, it was necessary so that I can set the lid over the PowerPot V without having to hold it up the entire time.

While the steam coming up from the pot isn’t enough to reach heat to fry, you can render and sautee. Chop up bacon and leave it in there for a few minutes, then it’s ready for some onions and spices.

Power Practical Power Pot coals

Coals don’t work well at all

If you throw in a half-can of beans, it takes about 8 -9 minutes for the beans to reach 160 degrees Fahrenheit with the lid as a double boiler – hot enough where each spooned bite will burn unless blown on first.

Using the steam as a heat source, I know I could also make rice or even bake. It might take a bit of trial and error, but, hey, it’s camping.

Cleaning

I have cooked with aluminum cookware before, and it can get a bit tricky due to the heat conductivity. But so long as the temperature is controlled, you’re not likely to burn food into the lid (if you’re cooking with the lid).

All I use is warm water and a sponge. If something is persistent, then baking soda and vinegar typically does the trick. I do the same for the PowerPot V itself, although it tends to collect only minerals left over from the evaporated water.

Verdict

Without a doubt, the PowerPot V makes for a great camping companion. It’s lightweight, durable, and maintains a steady, consistent output. Even though I have yet to achieve the 5W maximum output, the PowerPot V does deliver useful energy to mobile gadgets.

Power Practical Power Pot gas

Gas is the way to go

If you’re looking for a single solution for outdoor device charging, the PowerPot V won’t be able to fulfill those demands.

It would take 3+ hours of maximum boiling power to fully charge up the average smartphone battery, and that translates into a lot of propane being used.

But when you’re cooking, especially at night when solar panels are of no use, every bit of energy counts. This is especially so when you think about how 30 minutes of charging can provide a few more hours of music from a portable speaker.

Those who spend much time camping, hiking, or backpacking will undoubtedly find the PowerPot V to be a new favorite. I don’t spend enough time doing any of that, and I still consider the PowerPot V one of my top gadgets. If you’re on the fence, because it’s too small in size and/or output, fear not. Power Practical is soon to have their newer model available.

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