NATIONAL REPORT—For banquets and other gatherings, the number of eco-friendly portable food heating and warming solutions has grown in recent years. Some use electricity, others use greener versions of the more traditional fuel gels, while at least one company uses what it calls a Chafo that burns natural gas. Green Lodging News has reported on fuel gels in the past. Some are toxic, hazardous in numerous ways, and can even impact the taste and quality of the food being heated.
“The traditional alcohol gel is like an aerosol can putting out CFCs,” says David Moreland, “Chief Bottle Washer” at SMART Buffet Ware, just recently acquired by G.E.T. Enterprises. “It is the No. 1 cause of fire in hotels and stadiums. You are seeing a lot of play about eliminating canned fuel because of the fire hazard.”
Smart Buffet Ware is the producer of the SMART Induction Warmer. It is available in 110 volts or 230 volts. The warmer can be flush mounted into a countertop or it can be attached to a flush mounted chafer. It is also designed for use with Smart square chafer bases. Smart Buffet Ware uses a patented magnetic system to hold the chafer in place and attach the warmer to the chafer. This combination only requires 200 watts/1.82 amps per chafer. This will allow one to run up to 10 chafing dishes on a single 20 amp circuit. “Most of our competitors have a limit of two chafers per 20 amp circuit,” Moreland says.
Eliminates Need to Rewire
The challenge with transitioning to some electric heaters is the cost of rewiring—not the actual cost of the heaters. “Our system eliminates the need to rewire 19 out of 20 times,” Moreland says. Oftentimes, rewiring can cost in the tens of thousands of dollars. “By eliminating the costs associated with canned fuel, you can pay for all the new banquet equipment within nine months in most cases.”
SMART Induction Warmers feature adjustable automatic shut-off controllers, auto temperature control between 170℉ to 180℉, and auto timer for one to nine hours (preset at six hours). “What an induction heater does is send out a magnetic field,” Moreland says. “It has to find ferrous material. That magnetic field causes the molecules to move which creates friction which creates heat.” With the SMART Induction Warmer there is no flame to get blown out by the wind.
Moreland says 98 percent of the heat from the SMART Induction Warmer heats the food. With some gel burners 78 percent of the fire is heating the atmosphere and not the food. The SMART Induction Warmer helps reduce air-conditioning costs in indoor environments and has close to a zero carbon footprint. “The average cost of canned fuel is $1.52,” Moreland says. “It lasts for two hours. On average, our system costs 10 to 12 cents per hour. By eliminating the cost of canned fuel, you can pay for everything in less than one year.”
Portable, Greener Alternative to Gels
Now available in 40 countries around the world is eco-burner Ltd.’s Chafo. Unlike heaters that use gel and wick heat sources, the Chafo is a highly efficient burner that can be refilled with natural gas fuel from a recyclable aerosol can. The heat output is adjustable and can last five to 7.5 hours. It remains cool to the touch, extinguishes if knocked over, turns itself off if detecting heat buildup, and is wind resistant. According to John Horgan, Founding Investor & Director of eco-burner Ltd., his company’s chafing system has been independently tested by Carbon Footprint which has verified that there is a greater than 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions when switching from traditional chafing fuels to the Chafo.
“There is no fuel waste and the fuel is natural gas,” Horgan says. “There is a much better carbon footprint. A much higher percentage of the heat goes where it needs to go. You turn it on when you need it. You turn it off when you need it.”
Horgan says the Chafo can reduce costs by 20 to 30 percent when compared to gel alternatives. The Chafo also presents a much safer option. “Chemical burners were invented for the First World War and are dangerous,” Horgan says. “They should be disposed of as chemical waste.”
Gel Fuel with No Alcohol or Petroleum
Primary dangers with most canned gels is their alcohol and petroleum content and vulnerability to spills. Dennis Paul, President and CEO, ECOFuel Worldwide, says his company has developed an Organica gel that contains no alcohol and that has a can that is spill proof. The fuel is made using an enzyme-derived glycol that comes from plant fructose. With any canned gel, it is the thermal plume that heats the food content or water. As an alcohol fuel burns down, the thermal plume shrinks—giving you only about 55 minutes of good burning time. According to Paul, Organica provides at least one and one-half the burn time of alcohol fuels. A single burner lasts up to two and one-half hours with full visible flame.
ECOFuel Worldwide’s cans are refillable, reducing the tremendous volume of can waste to landfills. While gels made from alcohol have a short shelf life of eight months, Organica has a stable shelf life of five years.
Paul advises that if you do plan to use gel fuels outdoors, make sure chafers have wind guards. They will help the cans do what they are intended to do.
“When you have wind, that thermal heat is going sideways,” Paul says. “As the wind blows that flume, you get carbon buildups and lose heat transfer. You have to keep the carbon off the bottom of the pan.”
Different situations require different heating devices. The traditional gels may be dangerous in all instances. Eco-friendlier gels provide portability and a safer alternative when used properly. Electrical heaters provide many efficiencies and can be very safe as long as wiring matches up and portability is not required. Stacked plugs and overloaded circuits can be hazardous.
“If it is a fixed buffet, you can’t argue electric,” Paul says. “You have to have the right fuel for what you are trying to accomplish.”
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.