Sunday, June 2, 2013

Campfire Electricity!

How to generate electricity with a solar panel and your campfire!
Charge devices with a solar panel and fire!
Did you know that you can actually generate electricity with your campfire and a solar panel? Neither did we, actually... until recently. We actually stumbled upon this discovery in the past few months as a result of some very interesting after hours internal conversations (and a few adult beverages... but I digress).

In the interest of full disclosure, we are not scientists. We are not engineers. We aren’t even electricians... but we are thinkers! And the result of this thinking? Well, we think we have discovered something pretty ground breaking! And we are pretty sure you are going to agree!

A few of us at Equip2Survive started to get really interested in solar energy (and other alternative energy solutions and technologies) a few years ago for disaster preparedness purposes. Because of this unconventional preparedness approach to “off the grid” energy alternatives (as opposed to the typical “green” movement), we were able to ask some pretty interesting questions and come up with some pretty unconventional theories. 

The short version of this story... One evening after hours, a few of us began discussing how solar panels worked. We were intrigued by these glass panels that you could put in direct sunlight and magically transform this sunlight into electricity!! What’s not to love, right? But how does this happen? What wizardry takes sunlight and turns it into electricity? Turns out... it’s no wizardry at all. It’s science! Who knew?

We then started taking a closer look at this science and discovered that certain natural materials are “sensitive” to light and have the capability of translating sunlight into electricity!! We’ll let the scientists take care of all of the details on molecules getting hit by sunlight and jumping around and all that. For our purposes, these details matter very little. But there is another scientific aspect of photovoltaics (fancy word for the science behind “solar energy”) that is a huge part of our discovery: The electromagnetic spectrum.

You see... sunlight has energy in it. And solar panels are “sensitive” to this energy and become “active” when they are in contact with sunlight. The energy given off by the sun is all part of the electromagnetic spectrum... or as most of us refer to it, light. Now if you have had any basic physics, you might remember that “light” as we know it (visible light) is only a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic spectrum. The electromagnetic spectrum covers everything from x-rays to microwaves to radio waves to gamma rays. Don’t worry... we aren’t going to worry about any of these in this discussion. We are only interested in a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum barely larger than the visible light portion of the spectrum. 

You see... we non-scientist, non-engineer, non-electricians... we know just enough to be dangerous. We wondered to ourselves... are “solar” panels only sensitive to 100% pure sunlight? And... are they only sensitive to visible light? What about man-made light like flashlights, headlights, lamps and such? Incandescent? Fluorescent? And the mother of all questions... what about fire?? These are questions that we had to get answers to. 

We started researching. We found a few posts on the internet about solar panels and their sensitivity to man-made light, but strangely... we found nothing about solar panels being sensitive to fire in either in the positive or the negative. Nothing. We found this very strange. Had this idea never occurred to anyone ever before? Surely that wasn’t possible, was it? Surely we had not just made an significant scientific discovery... when we are not even remotely scientists. Is that possible? So... we stepped up our research. 

Solar panels are sensitive to sunlight, right? Sunlight (once it reaches the earth) is basically covers three primary categories of light: The visible spectrum, UV and... infrared. Infrared... hmmm... Interesting. Isn’t infrared light actually heat?? Well... yes, it is! What other sources of “light” give off these same wavelengths? Well... many actually!

The sun is basically a big ball of fire, isn’t it? And it gives off visible light and a bit of invisible light... including heat. So if another light source emitted some of these same wavelengths (albeit not at the nearly the same intensity of the sun), couldn’t a “solar” panel potentially be sensitive to other light sources besides just 100% pure solar? 

It was time to stop researching and theorizing. It was time to do some tests!! On our next camping trip, we brought our solar panels and lit a campfire. Once the sun went down, we propped up a solar panel next to the fire and then propped up a mylar reflective survival blanket on the other side of the fire to basically double his fire light... and amazingly our panels started charging our deep cycle marine batteries (yes, plural). 

This discovery was astounding to us. And we knew that the possibilities of this discovery were HUGE in terms of a survival skill! How? So glad you asked.

What if you need to charge a battery, phone or other device and you have a solar panel... but it is night time and almost completely dark outside? What if you are in a part of the world (like Alaska) where either the daylight hours are short or the intensity of the light in this region is less than optimal? You are hosed, right? Well... apparently not anymore!!

We are going to do many more tests and cover the specifics of this in much more detail, but we are ready to share our very simple, basic and straightforward demo of this on video! This is merely a very basic beginning to what we think is an astounding discovery!! We are looking forward to doing more experiments and tests in the near future, so stay tuned and enjoy the video!!


  1. now encircle the campfire and panel with those aluminum car sun reflectors and it will no doubt generate dble to triple vots.

    1. Great suggestion, Rick! We did something similar with cheap survival mylar space blankets and it made a HUGE difference! We like the way you think!! Hope you check back with us frequently for more similar tips and tricks!

  2. Wow. Amazing! I need to look into getting a solar panel and learning how to use it. I have absolutely NO idea how they work.... but want to learn. My problem is I am a "hands on" learner...I don't do well with book learning.

    1. Thanks Heavens Door Acres! Solar panels are super fascinating to us and we have had a lot of fun playing and experimenting with them.

      I think our real "aha" moment was when we mentally connected the dots on solar panels being sensitive to visible light... which is simply electromagnetic energy... just like heat is! The implications to us regarding were HUGE!!

      For example, you could actually potentially embed photovoltaic (solar) panels in... say concrete for example, where they would never get any visible sunlight... but if that concrete was heated (say like with a rocket thermal mass heater), you could use the heat (non-visible light) in your thermal mass to charge your solar panels and battery banks! And you could to it 24/7 with heat whereas you can only use sunlight during the day! How amazing is that???

    2. Unfortunately if you embedded pv panels they would only receive heat conducted by the thermal mass, no direct thermal radiation, which is what you want.

    3. Great point! Might have to try some experiments to see! Based on our experiment with just holding the panel up against my warm belly in complete darkness (conduction) and the result conducted a little bit of electricity, I am erring on the side of there being a fine line between actual radiation and conduction in this application. As you know, heat can transfer through convection, conduction and radiation... but in the end it is still heat... which is a form of "light" on the electromagnetic spectrum. In theory, the panels should produce electricity just being exposed to heat regardless of how the heat got there. Kind of like the difference between sunlight directly hitting a panel versus light being reflected onto the panel. I know that analogy isn't great because direct vs. reflect are both radiating light... but visible light doesn't conduct or convect like heat does. Make sense? I guess there's only one way to find out! New experiment!! :) Thanks for the comment!

  3. "BioLite" has the "Basecamp" stove and a smaller one for hikers, that has the ability to chare phones and tablets. It's a rocket stove that has a USB port


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