All-in-one appliance powered by sound: scientists

It sounds like a great idea: a stove, fridge and electrical source all rolled into one appliance and running on biomass fuel like wood.

It sounds like a great idea: a stove, fridge and electrical source all rolled into one appliance and running on biomass fuel such as wood.

And according to a consortium of U.K. universities, sound wavesare at the heart ofthe device.

The SCORE (Stove for Cooking, Refrigeration and Electricity) project, led by the University of Nottingham in England, has been granted $4.4 million Cdn to develop the appliance using technology called thermoacoustics.

Thermoacoustics is the generation of sound waves by unevenly heating gas. As the hotter, expanded gas travels to the cooler areas, pressure sound waves are generated that in turn can be used to power mechanical devices.

The process can also be reversed in refrigeration units: The sound waves can be used to power a pump to extract heat.

The technology, whichhas been known for centuries, has been used in such advanced technology as power sources and cooling units for spacecraft and satellites.

Nottingham Prof. Mark Johnson said the project brings high technology to the world's poorest rural communities, but added that there is a challenge in encouraging its use and adoption.

"One of the biggest engineering challenges will be to ensure that the majority of the developed system can be built and maintained within the community that uses it," he said in a statement.

The Nottingham researchers say two billion people use open fires as their primary cooking method, fires that lose up to 93 per cent of the energy they generate and generate pollution.

The SCORE appliance gets its energy by harnessing the heat generated when the stove is in use. The heat generates sound waves used to power a second engine that will pump heat away from the refrigeration unit.

The consortium of universities behind the project — which also includes the University of Manchester, Imperial College London and Queen Mary, University of London — told Nature their aim is to mass produce the appliances within five years.