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Energy Saving In The Most Unlikely Places: A Redesigned Pot That Heats Up Faster

From commercial kitchens to homes in the developing world, creating enough heat for food uses a lot of energy. This simple rethinking of our cooking gear could change that.

Energy Saving In The Most Unlikely Places: A Redesigned Pot That Heats Up Faster
[Image: Gas Burner via Shutterstock]

Cookware has not evolved much in the last 20,000 years. Graduating from clay to metal was the last great leap forward for vessels that heat our food. Since then, innovation has inched along. Energy efficiency, however, is finally pushing metal pots and pans beyond their 16th-century counterparts.

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The evolution is from an unlikely source. Physicist Lee Huang, who designs lasers for projection televisions, was remodeling his house in 2007 when he realized most of the heat from his gas range did not event go into cooking the food. Huang figured he could redesign something as fundamental as the pot by simply adding a heat sink, as IEEE Spectrum reports. Buying $25,000 in cookware for experimentation, his new company, Turbo Pot, is now manufacturing hyper-efficient pots that using a metal ridged plate to catch and distribute heat.

The physics of the pots are simple. More surface area translates to more heat transferred to the pot. By adding deep aluminum ridges beneath the pot, heat from the gas flames is absorbed by the metal and thus the food. After testing his technology at the California utility PG&E’s Foodservice Technology Center, Huang claims TurboPots double the effective heat of a burner and significantly reduce the amount of time for cooking.

His first customers are commercial kitchens. Since their ranges burn throughout dinner, major chains stand to see the most benefit. Carrabba’s Italian Grill chain has reportedly turned down its burners from about 30,000 BTU per hour to just 15,000 BTU per hour, and Huang says other chains may save as much as $1 million per year due to the efficiency gains. At home, faster cooking will outweigh any cost savings–a single pot may only yield about $100 a year in energy savings (if you use it three hours daily), but by effectively “doubling” the BTUs, says Huang, home cooks can heat their skillets and pots much faster with less energy.

Now utilities are seeing and promoting the benefits: The Energy Trust of Oregon, Nicor Gas of Illinois, and others are offer rebates for every pot purchased.

Now you can burn your next meal in record time.

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About the author

Michael is a science journalist and co-founder of Publet: a platform to build digital publications that work on every device with analytics that drive the bottom line. He writes for FastCompany, The Economist, Foreign Policy and others on science, economics, and the environment. His favorite topics are wicked problems -- and discoveries such as how dung beetles rely on the light of the Milky Way to navigate (and all that says about the human condition on Earth)

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