Innovative open flame cooking reduces indoor air pollution; saves time and money
When Peter Therkelsen was thinking about inventing a new way to cook, he and fellow scientist Robert Cheng hit on an idea based on a clean combustion technology for a ring-type gas burner that had been utilized in the past and designed for NASA’s low-gravity experiments.
What they came up with could revolutionize cooking for the home chef. The Grid Burner for Residential Cooking is a finalist in the R&D 100 for 2016, a competitive awards program that recognizes revolutionary inventions.
The team hoped to improve the conventional stove burner, enhance the cooking experience and improve indoor air quality. The question for the team was: “Current cooktop technology has been the same for 100-plus years. Can it really be improved upon?”
The answer is yes, according to Therkelsen, a Research Scientist in the Energy Technologies Area (ETA) of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab). Many of the manufacturers he’s talked to – including Viking, Whirpool, Wolf and GE - are very interested in the product. The home cooking range market has become highly competitive, and consumers are ready for a new look-and-feel.
Better yet, consumers will benefit from the major selling points of the burner:
- It can boil water 25 percent faster than conventional burners
- It improves indoor air quality and reduces fuel costs
- It heats food more uniformly, a significant benefit for sensitive dishes like omelets or crepes
- Food can be seared more easily
- The time needed to constantly stir sauces is reduced
The Grid Burner consists of a layout of individual flame ports, which can be arranged in a variety of patterns – to match particular cookware or even produce a flame in the shape of a logo. The individuality and marketing twist is appealing to designers of kitchen ranges.
When bringing the project to fruition, Therkelsen teamed up with ETA scientists Mike Tucker and Vi Rapp to engage in Lab Corps, an innovative Department of Energy (DOE) program that teaches researchers to think like an entrepreneur. What he learned in the DOE “Boot Camp” was instrumental in redirecting technology development to better fit customer needs. The team learned many tips from the program about how to bring an idea to market, and interviewed more than 75 individuals throughout the appliance market, including home cooks, kitchen designers and retailers.
“The majority of interviewees found the burner to be exciting and desirable,” Therkelsen said, and home cooks were especially drawn to the Grid Burner as a sleek, cleanable unit with high cook power, enabling the desirable features of quick boiling and high-temperature searing.
The team is now focusing its technology development efforts on building the “minimum viable product” that six cooktop manufacturers expressed interest in seeing and testing. Therkelsen hopes to bring it to market, either via an industry partnership agreement or through Berkeley Lab channels.
California Energy Commission
The California Energy Commission sponsored early technology development of the Grid Burner in 2014.The funding of this effort was targeted to support the development of an enabling technology to reduce emissions and pollution – both indoor and out.
To this end the Grid Burner is “app agnostic,” the technology can also be used for water and space heating, industrial processes and ovens, as well.
How does this new technology enable such handy, energy-saving accomplishments?
- Fueled with natural gas or propane, the grid burner uniformly covers the entire bottom of a pot evenly – hence it will boil liquids faster.
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions and less waste heat naturally follows.
- Indoor air quality improves because the unique flame stability mechanism of the Grid Burner allows for flame chemistry that produces lower carbon monoxide and an 80 percent-plus reduction in nitrogen oxide. Both are respiratory and environmental health hazards.
- Food will saute more evenly, and sauces will simmer better because of the enhanced delivery method of the flame.
Another key innovation is that the Grid Burner creates a fully premixed, natural draft that produces a stable flame. This flame stability previously was not available for home use.
Therkelsen’s invention is one of eight technologies that are finalists from Lawrence Berkeley National Lab for the R&D 100 2016.
The others are:
Energy Technologies Area
Cool Roof Time Machine Method for rating and prototyping cool roofing products that simulates three years of weathering and soiling in less than three days
Sustainable, Affordable Fluoride Removal Ultra-low-cost fluoride remediation approach using mildly-processed bauxite, readily available worldwide
DER-CAM+ Advanced decision support tool for optimizing investment capacities, placement, and dispatch of distributed energy resources
Shifter Customized software package for deploying containers and user-defined images in high performance computing systems
Carbon Capture Simulation Toolkit Computational tools and models that accelerate development of carbon capture technologies by reducing risk and uncertainty
Diode Beamstop Compact, customizable tool for X-ray scattering experiments providing real-time data
Materials Sciences Division and Molecular Foundry
PIM Membrane for Li-S Batteries Low cost, easily processed polymer membrane enabling next generation lithium-sulfur batteries with enhanced lifetimes and energy efficiency
R&D100 award winners will be announced in November, 2016. The reward is the winners’ name in a special R&D 100 Awards edition of R&D Magazine. The competition is more than 50 years old, and the number of entries and fields continues to grow each year.