Seebeck’s Amazing Discovery Bears Fruit in Africa

According to the GEOHIVE 2015 statistics  60% of Africa's populuation still live in rural areas and over 80% of people in sub-Saharan Africa depend on solid fuels such as charcoal and firewood (also known as ‘traditional biomass’) for cooking. This poses the challenge of developing properly designed cooking stoves that do not cause harm to people and the environment. For Africa to boost its energy access level, it requires the involvement of different parties like governments and the private sector.   Private industry works well when there is a political will and good policies have been set up to facilitate energy projects or investments.

Cleanleap has met with the developers of Powerspot A Spanish clean tech manufacturing company. Powerspot is a pioneer in the manufacture of portable thermoelectric devices for personal use, and it has expertise in the development of miniaturized power generation solutions, designed to be used anytime and anywhere, even where the grid is inaccessible or non-existent. Powerspot envisions distributing its prototypes all of over the world, especially to areas where accessing electricity is difficult.

After a year of research and many trials, Powerspot has come up with a product called PowerJiko (Jiko means “stove” in Kiswahili), in Africa the Jiko is mostly known as a type of cooking stove that uses less biomass while cooking. Powerspot has various prototypes that can be used during camping such as portable electric generators and LED bulbs. In this article we will focus on the PowerJiko product.

It all started from Thomas Johann Seebeck’s innovation

In 1821, Seebeck discovered that a compass needle is deflected by a closed loop formed by two different metals joined in two places, with a temperature difference between the junctions. Once joined, voltage is produced when the temperature of one of the contact points differs from the temperature of another, causing the electrons to move away from the hot end toward the cold end.  When the electrons go from the hot side to the cold side this causes an electrical current which generates electricity. This phenomenon is known as the “Thermoelectric effect.” A thermoelectric couple is a device consisting of two dissimilar semiconductors that contact each other at one or more points.

PowerJiko’s technology uses thermoelectric effect based on Seebeck’s innovation. One or more thermoelectric modules are built into the base of the generators. They have no moving parts or batteries. A direct current is produced when the base of the generator is heated and the upper part is cooled. This generator is connected to a cooking stove which can be manufactured locally in all African countries. More power will be generated when the temperature difference across both parts becomes larger, and the efficiency of converting heat energy into electricity will therefore increase.

“PowerJiko is a new disruptive technological product for developing countries whereby energy is still lacking on a large scale in remote areas” said Alfonso Acebal, Powerspot CMO

Once power is generated, it can reach up to 20 Watts of electricity, and can be used to power light bulbs, radio, TV, PC, or charge a phone. The PowerJiko can be used for 50,000 hours non-stop without causing any damage. One good thing about this prototype is that it is very reliable, cost-effective (USD $60), does not require any maintenance, and most importantly allows access to electricity even in a remote area.

PowerJiko being used (Image:Powerspot)

 “Our PowerJiko is a very simple energy generator, with no maintenance, clean and free in every household that can provide education, health, combat poverty and also create jobs” said Carlos Benito, Powerspot COO

Powerspot has already launched distribution through local distributors in seven countries (Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa, Zambia, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Ghana) and is expanding to more countries. These seven countries have been testing grounds to guage customer response to the PowerJiko and to gather  feedback on possible prototype modification. The PowerJiko will be launched officially in Africa during the Power Energy Kenya International Trade Exhibition & Conference which is happening in July 2016.

Do you think that PowerJiko is one of the solutions to meet basic energy needs in rural areas? Please leave your comments below.