Building a low-cost pot that optimizes heat transfer


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2020-2021 Team
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Project Title
Building a low-cost pot that optimizes heat transfer
Design Challenge
Even in the modern age, around 3 billion people still use basic cookstoves and open fires for cooking. 4 million deaths a year, primarily women and children, can be traced to home pollution stemming from these cooking methods. With no effective way of introducing clean energy solutions to a vast majority of rural areas, improving the efficiency of traditional cooking methods will help mitigate adverse health conditions and early deaths, environmental degradation, and societal inequities associated with the use of wood and biomass to fuel open fires. Currently, the problem is that most pots in use are selected based on the basic cooking needs and budget of the family, rather than efficiency and safety, and improving the efficiency of the pot itself is difficult without upgrading to more expensive materials that the affected populations aren’t capable or willing to pay for. The overall goal is to build a pot that can cook or heat on an open fire with less energy input than ever before.
Design Summary
To address the health, environmental, and societal implications of widespread open fire usage worldwide, we aim to build a low-cost, thermally efficient pot that optimizes heat transfer. After conducting extensive background research, we determined that our final solution must meet several criteria in terms of both functional specifications and customer needs. Functional specifications of the final design include the ability to operate on an open flame of > 600°C, greater thermal efficiency than a traditional pot, and the ability to maintain properties in drop durability testing. Customer needs include tool functionality, a design that maximizes resource efficiency, affordable (available to final users at < $7), and a simple, safe, user-friendly design. After compiling a list of criteria the final solution must meet, we proceeded with brainstorming various features of pots and pot additions that may optimize heat transfer. Through boiling water tests on mini and functional pots, as well as simulations conducted on ANYS, we narrowed down our final pot design to an 8 quart aluminum pot with half radial fins attached to the exterior base. This configuration was determined to be the most optimal for heat efficiency. The fins provide improved convective thermal energy capture via two mechanisms: the increased surface area provided by the fins and the thermally conductive aluminum material it’s made of. The unique geometry optimizes air to flow openly between the metal fins, and these channels serve as the main convection site for heat transfer between the fluid air and the pot itself. After creating a functional version of the Ecopot via pop-riveting and epoxying aluminum sheets on to a commercial pot, we conducted boiling water tests over a propane burner to measure the thermal efficiency of the Ecopot against a standard control with no additional changes to the geometry. After standardizing the test setup, we ran 3 trials for each pot type and found that the Ecopot was, on average, 100 seconds faster, than the standard pot at boiling 1 L of water. This translates to a 29% increase in heat efficiency. We also ran statistical tests and found that this difference is significant at the .05 level. In addition, this test confirmed that our pot could withstand open flame temperatures. After ensuring that the Ecopot was more efficient than a standard pot and could withstand high temperature conditions, we proceeded to create a final machined Ecopot that would prove more durable than the functional prototype. The fins were machined from a single block of aluminum that was then attached to a pot via epoxy. This final design was able to withstand 100 waist-high drops with only minor scuffs and dings. Hence, in sum, by withstanding temperatures of over 600 degrees celsius, proving to be almost 30% more efficient than the control, and maintaining functionality after drop tests, the Ecopot meets our technical design specifications.

Last Updated: 05/05/2021

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