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Conceptual Design of a Thermoelectric Edu-Kitchen System

Akshaya Srivastava, Daryl Duran, Mark Pinder, Vrishank Raghav, Narayanan Komerath
Daniel Guggenheim School of Aerospace Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology
Atlanta, GA, USA
Abstract—Woodburning kitchen stoves provide a potential
source of power to bring electric lighting, pollution control
and water sterilization to underprivileged communities around
the world. The conceptual design of a thermoelectric power
generation system is described. A DC fan powered by a
rechargeable battery drives air into the stove, optimizing the
fuel-air ratio to improve heat release and reduce smoke, soot
and other pollutants. A 5-watt light emitting diode floodlamp
provides steady lighting so that a child may learn in the kitchen.
A milliwatt LED is used to sterilize drinking water. A 13-
watt thermoelectric converter module operating at 225 degrees
Celsius recharges the battery using the heat from the fire. Fan
power is regulated using a thermocouple sensor to maximize
the heat release in the stove. Measurements and calculations
show that the design closes with the selected parameters, and
that enough air flow variation is available from the fan to
ensure optimal stoichiometry in the flame. While unit costs of
the components are high, wholesale prices are much lower.
Many families around the world must do their cooking
using rudimentary wood-burning stoves made of three
stones or bricks, burning whatever wood scraps they can
gather. These stoves are inefficient and with no more than
buoyant natural convection for exhaust removal, generate
high levels of pollution, leading to a high incidence of
health problems. With mothers having to attend to cooking,
their children must do their homework sitting in the
same kitchen, with poor lighting and air quality. A high
possibility of bacterial infection from drinking water is also
a reality. The Edukitchen system described in this paper
uses a thermoelectric module from spacecraft technology
as the centerpiece of a low-cost electric power generation
to bring ventilation, pollution control, fuel efficiency, clean
water and lighting to kitchens. The paper defines the
requirements for the system, and presents an initial version
of our solution, as a testbed for research and development
towards a mass-producible system.
Gordon [1] used the example of a thermoelectric
generator to derive generalized characteristics for heat
engines. Thermoelectric power generation has been used
in spacecraft power applications for several years. Bennett
et al. [2] describe the General-Purpose Heat Source
Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (GPHS- RTG) that
was used to provide power for the Galileo mission to Jupiter
and the Ulysses mission to study the polar regions of the
Sun. While radioisotope decay generated little heat and
thus only a relatively low temperature, the near-absolute
zero sink temperature of Space enabled spacecraft designers
to exploit the large available temperature difference. In
terrestrial applications, such a temperature difference
can be obtained from exhaust systems of heat engines
and automobiles, as well as from domestic stoves. A
1-kilowatt thermoelectric generator for diesel engines is
described by Bass et al. [3]. Ikoma et al [4] reported a
thermoelectric module and generator for vehicles with
gasoline engines. Snyder and Ursell [5] discuss the
efficiency and compatibility of thernmoelectric conversion
systems, developing a compatibility factor, and followed
that up [6] to the design of systems with segmented and
cascaded generators.
The application of thermoelectric generation to power
micro-devices has been explored beyond the Space power
application. Schaevitz [7] described a combustion-driven
micro electromechanical (MEMS) thermoelectric power
generator as a solid-state actuator power source. Stordeur
and Stark [8] describe a low power generator as a self-
sufficient energy supply for micro systems.
The idea of using thermoelectric converters with domestic
stoves as standalone sources of electric power has been
used by some researchers. Nuwayhid et al. [9] discussed
a low-cost stove-top thermoelectric generator for use
where the electric power grid was unreliable. Clearly one
consideration in the researchers’ minds was the high cost
per unit power of a thermoelectric converter, making it
harder for poor families to justify the cost of such devices,
whereas middle-class users in regions with unreliable grids
might serve as customers at least at the initial market stages.
In a 2005 paper they described development and test results
from a domestic woodstove incorporating thermoelectric
generation. Amrose et al. [10] describes a student team
project to develop and test the Tara fuel-efficient Berkeley
Darfur Stove prototype intended for the people in the
Darfur region of Sudan. While this device did not include
thermoelectric generation, it provides a good window
to the thinking of people trying to help the refugees in
the Darfur region. Reducing fuel needs, and improving
performance of the stove during high winds, were seen to
have literally life-saving implications for the refugees as
it reduced the need to go foraging for scrap wood fuel in
a region where there were roving bands of armed bandits
who would murder the refugees. Other well-known efforts
also sponsored by the United Nations and corporations,
include the Phillipps stove, and the Rocket Stove. These
efforts, however, were to develop portable stoves that
could be set up in the refugee communities, rather than
devices to be incorporated into existing mud and stone
woodstoves. The former type is suitable in refugee camps
and other locations where the device can be imported and
sold or given to the locals. The latter, meaning the device
to be incorporated into existing stoves, may work better in
several independent communities that are either too poor
or too difficult to convert to entirely new ways of cooking.
Among the cited experiences is that of South America,
where modern low-emission stoves were rejected by the
market because of the feeling that food cooked using the
new stoves lacked the smoky flavor of the previous stoves.
The present work was motivated by a television
commercial advertisement from the Hutch mobile telephone
company, that used to air a few years ago in India.
This advertisement showed a young mother in an Indian
home kitchen, clearly in an economically underprivileged
community. The mother is cooking chappatis in a pan
heated by a wood fire, on a stove that consists of three
mud bricks, a scene that should be instantly familiar to
millions of people from many regions of the world. Her
son is seated not far to the side holding a slate pad,
clearly under disciplinary supervision and required to do
his school homework. The pan is very hot, and the woman
has difficulty holding the bread to turn it over. Her fingers
are clearly feeling the heat. The son gets up and walks
away, prompting a sharp reprimand from the anxious and
obviously distracted mother. The boy returns in a moment
with a short length of stiff wire, which he proceeds to bend
into an effective pair of tongs, for his mother to hold the
bread comfortably. Her smile is as much in gratitude as in
pride in the ingenuity of her son.
A touching and inspiring scene and one that we sincerely
hope, increased sales of Hutch products and of the adver-
tisement producers. However, the well-made-up, photogenic,
smartly-attired and accomplished actress, the bright young
schoolboy and the clear, well-lit scene in high-resolution
cinematography, mask some harsh realities that apply to
hundreds of millions of families every day. We enumerate
some below:
1) The mud brick stove is the family’s only way to cook
their meal. If they could afford a nice clean-burning
gas stove they would get one.
2) The wood fuel for the stove is probably what the
family could gather, and forms a mixture of branches
and pieces of logs, and perhaps leaves, not of any
uniformly predictable or homogeneous composition.
3) The fire usually generates a great deal of smoke, and
the combustion is quite inefficient, with only natural
convection to bring air into the flame.
4) The kitchen has at best an open slot in the wall above
for ventilation.
5) The family has no access to electric power. The child
must study in the dark, smoky kitchen, by whatever
light is available through doorways or from the fire.
6) Anyone familiar with the environs of such homesteads
also realizes that pure drinking water is a luxury that
most such families do not get.
7) The sum total is an environment that puts hundreds
of millions of growing citizens at severe risk of
pulmonary, optical and gastro-intestinal disease, and
at a severe disadvantage in education. The cost to the
nation is immense, and therein lies the answer to how
improvements can be brought to these families.
The Edu-Kitchen project was conceptualized at the
Micro Renewable Energy Systems Laboratory at Georgia
Institute of Technology. This laboratory is set up to exploit
opportunities at the interface between high-end aerospace
research and development, and mass-market needs of
families. We reason that bottom-up empowerment (no
pun intended) of people to develop their own stand-alone
renewable energy solutions is the best way to rapid adoption
of renewable energy, and reduction of fossil fuel usage.
The Edu-Kitchen is one of five family-sized testbeds that
we are developing.
The system as presently conceived serves multiple
purposes with one thermoelectric converter module. The
module is sized to fit at the edge of a wood-burning stove
such as that described above. Power from the module
re-charges a small battery. A thermocouple attached to the
casing of the converter module senses temperature in order
to provide guidance to a programmed controller chip on
improving heat release rate. The battery, guided by the
controller chip, provides power to a DC fan, which drives
air past the cool side of the thermoelectric module and into
the stove, trying to achieve an optimal fuel-to-oxidizer rato
for the best heat release and minimized pollution. In more
sophisticated versions it may also power a ventilator to
remove exhaust gases.
A DC lamp consisting of an array of light-emitting diodes
(LEDs) provides steady white illumination, sufficient for
a child to read and write under. Another LED is used
to illuminate a drinking-water container to sterilize it by
killing the most harmful known species of bacteria that are
typically present in water. Thus the EduKitchen system is
intended to revolutionize the family’s living environment,
providing clean-burning and fuel-efficient cooking stoves,
efficient electric lighting and clean, safe drinking water.
The technical and socio-economic challenges in perfecting
such a device are formidable and span several disciplines.
It opens a long-term research portfolio with immediate
application to the tesbed.
The inspiration for the water purification aspect comes
from the UV Waterworks system [11] developed by Ashok
Gadgil and Vikas Garud at Lawrence Livermore national
labs, which is credited with saving hundreds of thousands
of lives by sterilizing drinking water and eliminating several
harmful bacteria including e-coli. Their system used a 40-
watt fluorescent black light, whose broadband UV content
was sufficient for effective sterilization. This was based on
studies showing that 254 nanometer far-ultraviolet radiation
effectively killed well over 99 percent of bacteria present in
water, quickly enough to permit installation of the blacklight
over slowly-flowing water. Luckiesh [12] described exper-
iments at General Electric Corporation on the effects of a
broad spectrum of radiation wavelengths from the infrared
to the ultraviolet, on human skin. This book also described
germicidal lamps and their spectral range of effectiveness.
They later showed that a dosage of over 200 microwatt-
minutes per square centimeter was adequate to achieve 100
percent destruction of e-coli in water even if the strain had
evolved through previous doses of the same radiation. More
recent studies have suggested that the range of radiation
between 260 and 270 nm, centered probably at 264 nm,
is much more effective, since this includes the resonance
wavelengths of the DNA of these bacteria. LEDs with output
over this narrow range can thus achieve the same results as
the earlier fluorescents, at power levels of milliwatts.
It should be stated at the outset that we do not plan to
convince families such as the one pictured in the Hutch
commercial, to buy the resulting device at full cost, which
would be far too expensive for them. The economic
viability is in the tradeoff between the very real economic
and human costs of disease and lost opportunities on the
one hand, and the cost to taxpayers or other sponsors
of buying and subsidizing empowerment of citizens to
irmprove their lifestyles and opportunities on the other.
Most probably, there can be exotic versions intended for
recreational customers, that can be economically viable on
their own. In this paper we will consider the unit cost of
each component in small quantities, and the projected per
unit cost when mass-produced. The former is quite steep,
since LED and thermoelectric converter markets are still
nascent, and batteries are expensive. The latter, as we see,
can come close to the levels at which even poor families
may be in a position to afford nearly the full cost.
From the above considerations, a set of requirements may
be defined for the system, as enumerated below.
1) The system must capture enough electric power during
an average evening cooking cycle of a family of 4
using a wood fire in a mud-and-brick domestic stove,
to recharge a battery to compensate for the demands
on the battery.
2) The battery must drive a DC fan to deliver enough
air flow rate and dynamic pressure to enable fuel-
lean combustion and pollutant removal from the wood
fire, while keeping the cold side of the thermoelectric
module at an optimal temperature.
3) The battery must power a lamp that is bright enough
to allow one student to read and write comfortably for
5 hours continuously.
4) The battery must provide enough power to operate a
control system.
5) The battery must provide enough power for a UV
water purifier system that adequately meets all the
daily drinking water needs of the family.
6) The resulting system must be compatible with the
present lifestyle of families in the customer area, and
require only minimal instruction to operate safely.
7) The system must be robust enough to survive normal
wear and tear as well as the occasional spills and
mechanical shocks that may be expected in a cramped
and poorly lit family kitchen.
8) The system mass produced cost per unit must be well
below the annual health care cost to the nation per
family in the relevant localities.
The initial system testbed model consists of a bismuth
telluride alloy thermoelectric module manufactured by Hi-
Z corporation, enclosed in a flattened metallic cone suit-
able for placing among firewood pieces in a stone stove.
The flattened cone is made out of the aluminum sheet
obtained by unwrapping an empty 12-oz soft-drink (Coca-
Cola) can. A separate Type J thermocouple sensor monitors
the temperature, while the thermoelectric power is used
to charge a battery. The output from the battery, and the
temperature signal, will go through a microcontroller (not
yet built), which controls power to a small DC computer
fan that drives air through the conical insert, optimizing the
stoichiometry of the combustion and powering the exhaust
out of the kitchen. A separate power line from the battery
goes to an LED flood lamp. Another power line goes to
a small ultraviolet LED mounted in the lid of a drinking
water container. At this writing we are testing the fan and
thermoelectric module systems, as the primary power user
and generator in the system. Fig. 1 shows the concept
Figure 1. Concept Map
A. Components
Figure 2 shows the HZ-14 thermoelectric module. The .
Figure 3 shows a picture of the initial mock up of the system.
The DC LED floodlamp acquired for testing is visible. The
water purifier module is at present only at a conceptual
design stage, but will use a UV light in the deep ultraviolet
range of 250 - 270 nm. Figure 4 shows a second prototype,
with a DC Cyclone Blower fan being run. This fan comes
integrated with a 90-degree turn of the flow, compatible with
building the insert and permitting a substantial reduction in
size from the initial prototype. Table I shows the prices
of the various parts of the design. Two components (the
rechargeable battery and the UV light) have yet to be bought,
and as such, are not included in the table.
Figure 2. HZ-14 ThermoElectric Module
To assess the air flow requirement, Black Spruce wood,
while not a common fuel found in rural areas, was
chosen because information on its chemical makeup and
Component Price
Thermoelectric Module $100
Computer Fan $8
LED Light $25
270nm LED, single unit $200
Table I
Figure 3. Mock Up of System
Figure 4. Fan and Nozzle
properties is available. The calculations shown below set
up a simple procedure to find the amount of air needed for
stoichiometric combustion. The assumptions are also stated.
Black Spruce contains 23.7% lignin, 42.1% cellulose, and
12.1% pentosan [13]. One cord (85 cubic feet) of black
spruce wood with approximately 20% moisture content
produces 15.9 million BTU’s of usable heat
The heating value of wood and the stoichiometric fuel-air
ratio are used to compute the air flow rate needed for
stoichiometry. We then estimate much heat must be released
during a typical evening’s cooking for the family, and hence
how much fuel and how much air flow rate are needed. Not
all of this air flow need go through the fan. There is already
natural convection due to the heat release, sufficiently
below the rich limit for combustion to enable such stoves
to operate, however inefficiently. In addition, the conical
insert jet nozzle will entrain flow around it, into the flame
so that the net mass flow addition will be higher than that
flowing through the insert.The issue then is whether the fan
can make a substantial difference to this amount, so that the
equivalence ratio (ratio of fuel-air ratio to the stoichiometric
fuel-air ratio) can be varied enough to control heat release
rate and pollution. We assume that no more than 50 percent
of the air sent into the stove can help in reaction, due to
imperfect mixing. The selection of an optimal fan size is
thus an iterative issue to be investigated later. At this stage
it is enough to lay out the amount of fan mass flow rate
that can be generated with an inexpensive DC computer fan.
A TSI Velocicalc probe is being used to measure time-
averaged velocity at several points across the exit plane of
the conical nozzle with the fan operated at various power
levels. The fan was driven using a DC power supply with
voltage varied and current measured. Parabolic curve fits
have been generated across the jet, and used to estimate
mass flow rate and jet kinetic energy. These initial results
show considerable spreading of the jet beyond the exit
diameter, validating the idea that the jet exiting the nozzle
will entrain substantial air flow around it. The mass flow
rate within the exit diameter is plotted in Figure ?? as
a function of the measured electric power input going
into the fan. The mass flow rate was also plotted against
the input voltage (not shown). At 12 volts, the fan could
generate roughly .3 grams per second of core air flow,
consuming roughly 7 watts. As can be seen from Figure
5, the mass flow rate generated by the fan is enough to
operate the stove with a heat release rate of 1kW at any
fuel-air ratio richer than roughly 0.4, which is very lean.In
practice, due to poor mixing, it may take an overall fuel-air
ratio of 0.5 to ensure that enough air gets to the fuel for
stoichiometric burning. Thus the flame equivalence ratio
is well within the the control of the fan. If a temperature
difference of 170 degrees Celsius can be maintained
across the thermoelectric module, roughly 8 watts can be
generated, adequate to power the fan and leave about 5
watts for the DC LED lamp and the UV LED water sanitizer.
Economic and societal viability of the system remains
to be studied. At single-unit retail prices that a research
university can receive, the thermoelectric module and the
LED for the UV sterilizer cost hundreds of dollars each,
while the DC LED lamp costs several tens of dollars.
However, the DC fan is now down to about 1 dollar per
Figure 5. Airflow capacity of fan and flame equivalence ratio for 1kW
heat release
fan in quantity, showing the effect of mass production. It
is quite possible that fans can be acquired from computer
junkyards and junk prices. The idea of fabricating the unit’s
housing from discarded aluminum soft drink cans is viable
at the small and large scales of production, if combined with
the interests of a recycling company. In mass purchases,
the UV LED is also down to low per unit prices. The cost
of DC LED lamps is coming down much more slowly. The
thermoelectric module is also fundamentally a low-cost
item to manufacture in quantity. Thus except for the LED
lighting, all other components appear to be coming down
to cost levels that should be affordable for government
programs to purchase in bulk, and they are already down to
levels where recreational customers can well afford to buy
the system.
In this first paper on the system, a conceptual design
of the EduKitchen concept is presented along with its
motivation and rationale. The paper goes far enough to
show that the basic concept of integrating devices for
thermoelectric generation, fuel efficiency improvement and
air quality improvement, and basic lighting and drinking
water sterilization, is technically viable. The conceptual
design is shown to close, with the power levels that can
be obtained at very modest heating rates and temperatures
from a domestic wood stove being sufficient to generate
enough power using a single thermoelectric module to
operate a DC fan to cool the sink side of the module, and
operate a a DC LED floodlamp generating the equivalent of
a 40-watt incandescent lamp in illumination. The fan-driven
air reaches a speed of several meters per second, adequate
to greatly augment natural convection. An estimation
procedure is laid out to estimate stoichiometry and to
generate design curves for various levels of heating needed
from the stove.
The paper is also intended to convey the multidisciplinary
nature of this research project. Although the issue of
making a home stove burn better, appears quite mundane,
the exploration of issues above shows that it challenges
leading-dge research capabilities in several areas. Computing
the heating from a stove burning assorted scrap wood,
enhancing mixing inside a cluster of wood pieces, modeling
and improving entrainment by a low-Reynolds number fan
nozzle, designing the EduKitchen insert, protecting the
thermoelectric module and cooling it enough for optimal
power generation and safety, all demand innovation. Current
work includes a more extensive characterization of the
jet showing the effective boundaries of the jet with the
entrained flow. This will permit a better estimation of the
air flow forced by the fan, which would add to the natural
convective flow into a stove. Figure ?? shows the expected
performance of the HZ-14 thermoelectric module as a
function of the temperature difference across the module.
This plot indicates that a single such module is sufficient
to provide the needed wattage. However we have not
succeeded in optimizing power extraction from the module
to reach such values, and this issue is being investigated.
Figure 6. Power Output of Hz-14 versus Temperature Difference
This study was enabled by NASA Grant NNX09AF67G
S01, the EXTROVERT initiative to develop resources for
cross-disciplinary innovation. Mr. Tony Springer is the tech-
nical monitor.
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