A wood-burning stove that uses sound to generate electricity and refrigeration could one day make waves in developing countries. That’s the hope of an international team headed by engineer Paul Riley of the University of Nottingham in the United Kingdom. This month, the U.K. government and the U.S.’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico awarded the team almost $4 million to develop a Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration, and Electricity (SCORE). The appliance would rely on external combustion, such as a wood fire, to heat one end of a tube of compressed gas, inducing sound waves that can be harnessed to generate enough electricity to power a light bulb and a small refrigeration unit.
The principle isn’t new, but the technology has been too expensive for general use, says thermoacoustician Steven Garrett of Pennsylvania State University in State College. The SCORE team hopes to make it cost-effective with cheaper materials: Compressed air could replace high-pressure helium, for example. “If anybody can pull this off, it’s got to be these guys,” says Garrett. The device may not cut down on wood consumption, but tests suggest that it will make use of up to 30% of a wood fire’s energy, much more than a typical stove’s 7% efficiency.