I’m kiddish, and do stupid stuff to pass the time. Pretty proud of it too. Of all the stuff I do, once in a while, something interesting comes of it. This time, what started as a mis-communication with a friend over why it takes more than five minutes to heat wine (and 2 months later, when I did the math, it makes sense why), I decided the world could do better. Surely with all of man’s ingenuity, we’d have a device that allows us to heat stuff fast, and keep it at a temperature we desire. Thermostats aren’t new – but you’d be hard-pressed to find a kettle or heating rod that’ll do this even today.
As is bound to happen, I began building something of my own. It’s not until you do the math that you realize just how much specific heat water has. It’s a miracle we get it to boil at all. Pumping in that much energy into a thermodynamic system that fast was a problem. My heating elements would have to heat up too rapidly and I needed some way to control them.
The next step was obvious. A trip to radio shack, an Arduino and a fast-switching MOSFET, turned into a pulse-wave modulated heating element - beyond which the original intentions of heating wine fast no longer mattered – I was chasing some crazy high.
I ended up building a device that gets multiple feedback readings plots them on a logarithmic function, and injects heat at the rate at which said liquid can absorb safely, without the boundaries over-heating, and can compute the rate of heat loss from the system through radiation or evaporation (before you ask, yes, at that point I was caught up in the feature-hole – just adding stuff because I could.) Microcontrollers in the hands of a software engineer are dangerous. Once you have one, you find yourself with limitless power and the ability to add frivolous sensors and features, for cheap.
Anyway, a quick survey among friends (which is a pretty biased sample – since they always tell you what you want to hear) indicated that it may be quite a nifty little thing for home use. There are plenty of liquids that needs to be regulated in a small temperature window. Thermostats are typically fairly brutal in their operation – they turn on and suddenly heat up your elements rapidly, and abruptly shut off. You can’t really regulate them to say turn on 1/5th of a second, each second, so that you don’t get the massive temperature variance.
It’s been quite an adventure, and I practically burnt through my life savings. I am a trained programmer, but electronics has been a hobby. I’m worse still when it comes to fabrication. Fabrication is an art, and as such cannot be objectively studied. As much as I’d like to be, I’m not MacGyver. My initial tools of choice were test tubes, and beakers – stuff you’d find easily, but not stuff that makes a good product. I learnt a hard lesson – material science is a “thing”, and one that deserves more respect than I had given it for a long time. Finding a material with all the thousand properties that make a good food-safe barrier between your electronics, and… well, food, is a challenge.
So I stand here today – owner of the world’s arguably most advanced device ever possessed for the purpose of heating wines – and one that I dare not use, for fear of accidentally starting fires.
As I mentioned above, when you really do the math, it takes about 4 KJ to heat 1 liter of water by 1 degree C. Assuming you want it at near boiling (say 95C) from room temperature of say, 30C, you’re looking at a 65C difference. You need about 230 KJ to heat it up. That’s about 230 watts per second for a thousand seconds (about 16 minutes) not counting any heat losses. No way do I have the guts to run that kind of power through anything I built at home. I have some experience with microelectronics, but those who handle power electronics are in a different league altogether. It’s a wonder we live such safe lives given how much power circulates through our grids around us at every moment.
I am however, looking for investors. I’ve filed a provisional patent, and would welcome any contacts, startups, large companies, kitchen appliance companies to revolutionalize the world of… heating wine?
Until my next project then….