Alternative Phone Charging Devices

We’ve all heard of solar cells that charge your devices, or the odd flashlight that charges when you shake it, but this style charger should be new to almost everyone. This “pan charger” is reportedly capable of charging a cell phone or other mobile device using a USB connection in 3 to 5 hours.  It also has a built-in radio and lantern. This should be a great tool for surviving a zombie apocalypse or if you simply live in a region without readily available power.

A second charger, currently being used in Africa, is an adaptation of a small generator hooked up to a bicycle. As this form of transportation is quite common in developing nations, this simple idea definitely shows promise.  Check out the video of the bike cell phone charger after the break.


via []

32 thoughts on “Alternative Phone Charging Devices

  1. A correction. The pan charger doesn’t have a built-in radio/lantern. These are only examples given of USB-powered devices which could be attached.

    It’s a good idea. Though after reading, here’s my questions:

    1) I’m not sure it’s actually in production. The photos strike me as prototype/mock-up to attract interest.
    2) It’s not clear what the efficiency of this “oxide-based” thermoelectric device of theirs is relative to the common bismuth telluride ones. I’m guessing it’s less. Their version claims a higher operating temperature range, but is it really necessary for this app, or are they pushing it just because it’s their baby?

    Building your own pan charger that works with off-the-shelf bismuth telluride thermoelectric modules would be a *great* hack.

    Can’t wait until we see the next big advance in thermoelectric conversion with higher efficiency. I was watching Cool Chips ( for a while, their thermionic converter seemed to have a lot of promise; but sadly they haven’t posted any progress in years.

  2. I love how doing things we have been doing HERE For decades, but in africa is suddenly innovative and genius…

    Guess what, a lot of bicyclists were charging phones and other items like that 20 years ago here. It just means that africa is 20-60 years behind everyone else.

  3. No schematics or anything for the pan charger? That’s a crock. All they have is pictures of it over a fire and some pictures of the thermoelectric module. That’s crap.

  4. I did something about the same as the bike charger for my old nokia brick, but i was messing around because i had no power for two weeks after the hurracanes in 2004 and did not have any cash for a generator

  5. Don’t get what is novel about the first one. I have something almost identical I made years ago with a couple of commercial peltier cells and a pair of CPU heatsinks, and I’m sure I’ve seen others on the net. Only difference is mine is aircooled and self-powers a CPU fan to cool the cold side. It still gets too hot to touch after a while but makes plenty of power to charge a phone.

  6. It seems like you could make a steam powered generator and also capture the steam for potable water.

    The trick would be making the apparatus portable and easy to assemble.

  7. Nothing new.

    This pots with integrated thermal generator are on the market since many years. Also thermoelectic generators that you can place directly in a campfire.

    And Lamp radios:

    The lamp radio uses the generator TEG 097-300-33
    (datasheet here:

    And even this is a very old technology:

    There are also other gadgets available, like thermoelectric torches:

  8. @Nes: Boiling water means you don’t need to waste any power running a fan to cool the cold side. And as long as you keep water in it, the cold side is always limited to 212°F max, regardless of how hot the hot side gets; unlike forced-air cooling. It may not be terribly novel, but how many times have you actually seen it done this way?

    @Hosky: A steam generator would be more efficient; but also more bulky, heavy, expensive, and prone to mechanical failure. Steam capture is a good idea though, and could be added to this; providing both some electricity and potable water.

    Thisupend: Was in the same situation for Hurricane Gustav. I wired 8x D cells in series, making 12V which I ran through my cell phone’s car charger to charge the phone. (My car’s lighter port wasn’t working at the time.) Worked great, but unfortunately cell service went out a day later; I guess the batteries in the towers died.

  9. Very, but very bad idea.

    Africa does not need another reason for burning wood. In some places the primary (only…) source of heat for cooking is coal, that comes from wood that has to be cut somewhere, deflorestation causes erosion that leads the reduction of the area of the fields where agriculture is possible.

    See what already happened in Haiti and is happening in others places right now.

    If it run on solar power or methane, fine. Wood is bad idea.

  10. I vote for the rock and string charger. All you need is a cliff. Tie the string around the rock and throw it over the cliff. The other end is hooked to a generator and there you go. As long as you have string and rocks you have power.

  11. @JS “source of heat for cooking is coal, that comes from wood…deflorestation causes erosion that leads the reduction of the area of the fields where agriculture is possible….Wood is bad idea.”

    No, no, and no. Coal is a fossil fuel, unless you use the medieval definition. CHARCOAL comes from wood, and other dense plant products. Agriculture causes a LOT of erosion (though deforestation without replacing trees does contribute to desertification) and wood is a very renewable resource.

    Communities that rely upon wood fuel could use similar techniques to those in medieval Europe, where wood was actually grown and harvested as a crop (coppicing) which would regrow every 5-10 years.

    There’s a tree I’ve found in California that I believe to be an Austrailian native, I took a thin branch the size of a pencil for a plant stake. The plant died…but the stick grew! Two years later, it was a tree as thick as my leg and 8-10 feet tall. I took a few branches from that tree and planted them when we moved. That tree is now over 12 feet tall and shades the house quite nicely, though we had to move from there about six years ago. There are many species that propagate just as easily, and grow as quickly.

  12. @andar_b

    I meant coal as in burned wood not fossil coal. (not a native speaker so I have some flaws)

    And there are places as I found out in National Geographic articles (about africa) where wood is not a crop, is stolen from the florest and replanting is not a priority (add that to wood smuggling).

    Thats why my comment was written like that.

  13. @fartface

    Sometimes I feel that some part of the planet is not only some decades but some centuries in the different time zone.

    Did you know that there are people living out there that do an open fire in the house to cook food? I mean fire without chimney. How many centuries back in time is this?

    And then there are again people who think that some out of the sky high tech solution is will solve problems of these people.

  14. @fartface

    I like to add one more thing. Actually two. Mortar and glass making. These are two technologies that you probably will miss the most when not counting the Internet.

  15. The Australian magazine “Radio, TV & Hobbies” featured a ‘Reader Built It’ item in the 1960’s consisting of a stack of homebrew thermocouples on a small kero lamp running an early transistor radio.

  16. Weird.

    For about $17, at Lowe’s of all places, I picked up a solar panel. I intended to use it to help keep the 12V battery up on a seldom-driven vehicle.

    The other day, I got to playing with it. I connected it to a car charger for my Droid with the clips that came with the panel, and put the panel in the sun.

    It provided enough voltage at whatever current the phone draws to keep things quite happy, which (in my experience with this phone and charger) means that the phone will fully recharge in an hour or so.

    Now, as far as I know, the sun still rises every day, even in Africa, and it’s easier to gather sunlight than firewood.

    I don’t know how well the arrangement works on a cloudy day because I haven’t tested it. But it seems like a no-brainer to put two such solar panels in series: The panels are intended to charge a 12V battery, and the phone charger is intended to run from a vehicle with either a 12V or 24V system so it’d remain happy if the sun did peek out.

    Or, since the panel in question has a built-in diode, there can be no harm in running multiple panels in parallel for a cloudy day.

    Or, to save money on photovoltaics (at the expense of simplicity): Capacitor switching to increase voltage while reducing duty cycle. Less light == slower charge, but slower charge == better than none.

    How much does this wood-burning phone charger cost, again? More than, or less than $34?

    On the other hand: Photovoltaics don’t have a side benefit of providing warmth or boiling water, but also don’t require a constant influx of trees.

  17. Glad it wasn’t just another try at a thermoelectric generator using those peltier devices. THey almost never seem to work reliably but this seems to be different (thankfully) so not instantly turned away.

  18. @cutandpaste

    maybe so but photovoltaic panels requires materials that are hard to make
    you can easily make a dynamo from scrap metal thought
    but yes… I guess there ain’t much rainy days there


    good ol’ 7805
    better that than burning your phone
    but don’t you think a step down would be overkill?
    I doubt they need more efficient chips… on a bike with a shaky dynamo

  19. Dan Rojas’ experiment came to mind when I seen the thermoelectric unit. Respectfully Rob if you need a schematic for that, you may consider taking any night course that may be available to you. Decent Peltier devices(for use a power generation) are still too expensive. Bike dynamos, small PV, wind will bring the light to 3rd world countries, particularity those in rural area. I hadn’t read much on the wind belt lately. IMO that has the most to offer in regards to pico-power, by using minimal local salvage resources. No need to be sad that a linear voltage regulator is use. When a bike, is #2 to walking for transportation ,inefficiencies aren’t going to be noticed.

  20. Hello!
    Does anyone know of any DIY plans to build a magnetic charger for my cell phone, powered by my bicycle? I plan to do many long bicycle rides, using my smart phone as my GPS and cyclometer.
    It seems that there should be some way to create a magnetic charging device that provides frictionless power. I dont want to use one of those cheap friction-wheeled dynamos. A solar panel would be good only in sunlight.

    Any help will be appreciated.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.