CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATIONS
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
The present application claims the benefit of priority from pending U.S. Provisional Patent Application No. 60/360,626, entitled Fuel Gel, filed on Mar. 1, 2002, which is herein incorporated by reference in its entirety.
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention relates to cooking, and in particular to a fuel medium in a gel state.
Portions of the disclosure of this patent document contain material that is subject to copyright protection. The copyright owner has no objection to the facsimile reproduction by anyone of the patent document or the patent disclosure as it appears in the Patent and Trademark Office file or records, but otherwise reserves all rights whatsoever.
2. Background Art
There are some human needs that have to be fulfilled everyday for the human to live and sustain a healthy life. Eating items classified as food, both cooked and raw, is one such human need. Foods need some kind of fueling agent to increase the temperature to a level where any living organisms within the foods are killed and to eventually cook the foods. There are many areas in the world where even today electricity and solid or liquid fuels, some of the most conventional ways of cooking food, are unavailable, scarce, expensive, or, in themselves, inappropriate to use. We will explore these conventional ways of cooking food along with their drawbacks next.
Solid fuels, for example coal and wood, are generally readily available and commonly used, particularly in the developing nations of the world. They form a natural source of fuel for cooking, and have been in use for many centuries. They not only offer adequate heat for cooking, but are a good source of light as well. However, they do not offer the flexibility often demanded in various applications, for example in the military, in areas devoid of vegetation, or in areas that are wet and damp. Igniting solid fuels is also often problematic, and once combustion has begun, its control is not easy. Transportation and storage is also of concern. Moreover, during combustion, one often has to cope with smoke, soot, impartation of odors, and sometimes the alteration in the taste of the food being cooked. Solid fuels is used both indoors and outdoors, but often the site where cooking takes place is neither portable, nor easily shifted.
Liquid fuels, like paraffin (also called kerosene) is significantly cleaner than solid fuels, and offer a whole range of advantages, which altogether makes for a preferred alternative. However, it too emits soot, noxious gases, and smell. It is relatively costly and can pose serious health, fire, and environmental hazards when spilled. However, with paraffin, it is now possible to make use of portable heaters and cookers. For example, Primus stoves, which run on paraffin, are common kitchen gadgets in low-income dwellings in some developing nations.
- SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
Electricity has only recently taken over solid and liquid fuels as a viable food heating source. Using electricity to cook and heat foods eliminates the emission of soot, smoke, noxious gases, and other odors associated with solid and liquid fuels. However, producing, storing, and transporting electricity is not only an expensive utility, but since the production of electricity is conventionally tied with cascading waters, it cannot be produced by nations that do not have perennial cascading rivers or the means to dam such natural resources. Even a nation like Canada that has the natural and almost perennial resource as the Niagara Falls charges its citizens staying in provinces outside Ontario much more than the ones who live within the province of Ontario because storage and transportation of electricity is sometimes more expensive than its production.
The embodiments of the present invention provide a fuel medium. According to one embodiment of the present invention, since this medium is a gel, prior art fuel spillage hazards are eliminated. According to another embodiment of the present invention, the fuel gel comprises entirely of material from vegetable matter in combination with alcohol, primarily ethanol, although other low carbon alcohol may be used in combination with some water. This blend is made into a gel by the addition of Methyl Hydroxyl Propyl Cellulose (MHPC). According to another embodiment of the present invention, it is easily biodegradable when spilled and is not harmful to the environment, and can hence be used both indoors and outdoors. According to another embodiment of the present invention, the present invention in itself does not need anything else to enhance its viscosity, but may be strengthened by the addition of Fusel Oil, or, more specifically, Amyl alcohol, which is a major constituent of Fusel Oil. According to another embodiment of the present invention, during combustion it is smokeless, without soot, devoid of noxious gas emissions, non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive hence eliminating the impartation of unpleasant odors to the food being cooked.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
According to another embodiment of the present invention, the gel form of the present invention makes for ease of packaging, as fuel for suitable heating units that are portable, and as fuel for suitable barbeque/fire lighter units. The reduction of ash and residue makes for easy maintenance of the heating and lighter units. One major benefit of the ease of packaging makes the product easy to transport, thereby offering flexibility of use, making even military use possible. The low cost of production, due to the efficacy of the MHPC, makes the present invention affordable to the low-income earners, thereby providing a preferred alternative to prior art fuels. According to other embodiments, the present invention has an enhanced ability to retain alcohol and to reduce its evaporation which increases the fuel's shelf life. The viscosity, once achieved, remains constant, stable, and uniform thus providing a steady burn. The burn rate and heat intensity can be altered by increasing or decreasing the water content of the alcohol-water mixture prior to adding MHPC. Thickening of the gel increases over time, as the MHPC dissolves, thereby improving ease of packaging. Since the right viscosity needed for cooking is achieved using less than 5% MHPC, the production cost is reduced.
These and other features, aspects and advantages of the present invention will become better understood with regard to the following description, appended claims and accompanying drawings where:
FIG. 1 is a flowchart illustrating an approach to increase viscosity of the present invention.
FIG. 2 is a flowchart illustrating another approach to increase the viscosity of the present invention.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION
FIG. 3 is a graphical representation of a comparative analysis of the viscosity achieved in the above two approaches.
The embodiments of the present invention provide a fuel medium. According to one embodiment of the present invention, this medium is a biodegradable gel. In the following description, numerous specific details are set forth to provide a more thorough description of embodiments of the invention. It will be apparent, however, to one skilled in the art, that the embodiments of the present invention may be practiced without these specific details. In other instances, well known features have not been described in detail so as not to obscure the invention.
The fuel gel is designed for use in cooking. However, other uses can conceivably be covered including heating or boiling of water, lighting, and heating applications in the cold season.
Alcohol (Ethanol) obtained from vegetable matter is the focal point in the present invention. Vegetable matter typically consists of not more than 95% ethanol in its purest form, the remainder of it being water. The alcohol-water blend is variable with water content ranging from a maximum of 30% by weight to a minimum of 5% by weight. This blend type allows for miscibility as it involves a polar substance, the alcohol, in water. However, as the carbon content of the alcohol used increases, so too does the difficulty encountered in dissolution. Combustion properties of the alcohol in the final gel also varies progressively with increase in carbon content. Therefore, lower carbon alcohol is preferred. It also remains apparent that the higher the water content of the gel formed, the lower will be the heat intensity and the slower the rate of combustion.
There are two approaches that can be followed in gel formation depending on the desired nature and viscosity of the finished product.
In the first approach, MHPC is added to the mixture of alcohol got from vegetable matter and water to a maximum of up to 5% by weight. The greater the quantity of MHPC added, the more viscous is the gel formed upon vigorous agitation, which results in the complete dissolution of the MHPC. Agitation can vary depending upon the quantity of gel produced from mixing by hand, to using a wooden stick to mix the blend, to using a mixing apparatus similar to concrete mixing. Addition of MHPC to levels above 5% is not necessary and in fact results in the formation of a semi solid mass as opposed to the desired gel. Therefore, gel strength is already adequate at this stage. It is important to also note that there is no need to make adjustments to the pH of the alcohol-water blend in order to dissolve the MHPC. The MHPC is readily soluble & dissolves completely without the additions of any acids, alkali or buffer solutions, and neither is there need for the elevation of temperatures to assist the process as it occurs at room temperature. The gel formed is thus ready for use & requires no salts to enhance viscosity. The gel formed in this manner is significantly more stable, uniform, and requires 30% less cellulose to produce a gel of equal strength (viscosity) as that of any prior art gel fuels.
This first approach is shown diagrammatically in FIG. 1. At step 100, alcohol from vegetable matter that consists of not more than 95% ethanol is mixed with 5% water at step 110. This blend is termed Ethanol at step 120. At step 130, MHPC is added to the Ethanol. At step 140, a check is made to see if the mixture needs to be more viscous. If it does, then at step 150 more MHPC is added to the mixture before going to step 160. If the mixture has the required viscosity, then at step 160 agitation is induced to completely dissolve the MHPC in the mixture.
In the second approach, the procedure described above is followed in its entirety. However, the addition of Fusel Oil (a by-product of the production of ethanol from sugar cane processing) or amyl alcohol in its purer form up to 5% by weight, further enhances gel strength, thereby further reducing the amount of cellulose (MHPC) required. This has the obvious production cost advantages, while further enhancing all the other advantages described thus far. It is important, however, that the addition of Fusel Oil, is not an absolute requirement for production of the fuel gel. The fuel maintains all of its properties adequately even without the addition of the Fusel Oil.
This second approach is shown diagrammatically in FIG. 2. At step 200, alcohol from vegetable matter that consists of not more than 95% ethanol is mixed with 5% water at step 210. This blend is termed Ethanol at step 220. At step 230, Fusel Oil is added to the mixture. At step 240, MHPC is added to the mixture. At step 250, a check is made to see if the mixture needs to be more viscous. If it does, then at step 260 more MHPC is added to the mixture before going to step 270. If the mixture has the required viscosity, then at step 270 agitation is induced to completely dissolve the MHPC and Fusel Oil in the mixture.
In both of the above two procedures, the viscosity of the gel increases with time as dissolution of the MHPC approaches completion. The gel viscosity becomes constant after a period of 5 days. Refer to the graphical illustration of FIG. 3 for a comparative analysis of the viscosity achieved in each instance. It is also important to note that the finer the granular form the MHPC is available in, the greater is its rate of dissolution. It is apparent that the viscosity of the gel produced in this manner is significantly greater than that produced by use of Ethyl Hydroxyl Cellulose (EHC) as described in prior art inventions. The major difference being the incomplete dissolution of EHC compared with the complete dissolution of MHPC in this invention.
It is also apparent that the present invention therefore incorporates all the advantages of prior art similar inventions where EHC is used. In fact, the present invention even goes beyond all prior art inventions with regards to advantages observed. Notably, as there is no need for any pH adjustments, no additives in the form of bases, acids or buffers are required and neither are any inorganic salts required to enhance gel formation. Therefore, the gel formed is kept as natural as possible while remaining bio-degradable and environmentally friendly. According to another embodiment of the present invention, the gel state makes for ease in packaging and for use in portable cooking units and barbeque/fire lighters.
Other embodiments of the present invention include the significantly enhanced ability to retain alcohol and to reduce its evaporation, which increases the shelf life of the gel. The viscosity, once achieved, remains constant, stable and uniform, thus providing steady burn properties. The burn rate and heat intensity can be altered by increasing or decreasing the water content of the alcohol-water blend prior to addition of the MHPC. Thickening of the gel increases over time, as the MHPC dissolves, thereby improving ease of packaging. Less MHPC is required to make the gel, therefore reducing production costs.
The MHPC used in the present fuel gel is available from Hercules International Ltd., and is more commonly known as CULMINAL MHPC 20 000S. While the grade of the product is specific, it is apparent that similar results can be obtained by the use of cellulosics of the same basic chemistry in terms of molecular structure, physical properties and behavior. The present invention and its description are not limited but rather cover all and any such obvious adaptations.
Thus, a fuel medium is described in conjunction with one or more specific embodiments. The embodiments of the present invention are defined by the following claims and their full scope of equivalents.