Though cooking isn’t exactly rocket science, one inventor has a strong case for why it’s not such a bad idea to start treating it that way.
Thomas Povey, who happens to be a rocket scientist, is the inventor of the Flare Pan, the latest in lab-engineered cookware sold through UK-based manufacturer Lakeland. Tests have shown that the modified sauce and frying pans require 40 percent less energy to heat up, compared to a standard counterpart. Lakeland also claims that the improved efficiency translates to faster cooking times.
The University of Oxford researcher first hit upon the idea for a more efficient pan during a mountaineering excursion. It’s at these higher, chillier altitudes that design deficiencies, which can result in the loss of as much as 75 percent of the heat generated by a stove, hit the hardest. Rugged outdoorsman often have little choice but to wait an eternity to boil water, or resort to lugging around clunky, heavy-duty camping stoves.
“When people are boiling or cooking, they really only see the flame, which is the hottest part of the gas,” Povey explains. “But beyond that is all this hot gas rising around the pan that can be captured and used to heat food or water much faster.”
With his experience developing high-efficiency cooling systems for jet engines, Povey set about applying his knowledge of dissipation and how heat is exchanged toward fashioning a design that makes optimal use of gas that would otherwise be wasted. To that end, Povey, along with his students, spent the last three years fashioning various configurations, running simulations and testing prototypes. The goal was to settle on a product that satisfactorily blended high-efficiency, performance and low-cost materials. “We tested a lot of ambitious and complicated designs, but sometimes it gave worse performance than the fairly simple versions,” he added.
The secret to the Flare Pan’s energy-saving efficiency is a series of vertical fins that jut out along the outer surface in a circular pattern. The aerodynamic fins prevents heat from escaping by channeling it from the bottom and up along the side, where heat can evenly distributed across more surface area, allowing foods and liquids to warm up much faster.
And while there’s already a popular alternative called the portable Jetboil system, which captures and evenly distributes heat through a similar fin-like “heat exchanger,” Povey points out that the product simply isn’t suitable for kitchen-style meal preparation. “Jetboil and other outdoor units are built for different functions, like boiling water mostly,” Povey says. “Optimizing something for domestic use is different because people are expecting a different quality of cooking and cookware that looks like it belongs in the kitchen and can be cleaned easily.”
To finalize a production version, Povey later teamed up with Lakeland, a collaboration that allowed his team to overcome a series of manufacturing challenges, which included identifying a partner capable of forging the casting of the shape.
The Flare Pan, which recently won an eco-friendly design award from the Worshipful Company of Engineers, a British trade group, can be purchased through Lakeland’s Web site, with prices starting at about $85. Shipments are scheduled to go out after Aug. 25.