NATIONAL REPORT—Canned gel chafing fuel remains the primary heating choice for upwards of 90 percent of the hospitality industry for chafing dishes and other similar food and beverage containers according to industry experts. That is bad news for the environment and hotel owners, however, when one considers canned fuel’s inefficiency, its cost, its many hazards while in use, and its carbon and other negative impacts throughout the supply chain. In fact, says David Moreland, Chief Bottle Washer for Smart Buffet Ware, when you burn canned fuel, 78 percent of the fuel is heating the atmosphere—not what is intended to be heated. In an indoor environment, that may lead to turning up the AC, further increasing costs and environmental impact.
For quite some time, Smart Buffet Ware has provided AC powered induction systems that have dramatically reduced the carbon impact and cost of chafing dish heating while making it safer. Recently, however, Smart Buffet Ware and Hospitality Solutions Group, LLC with its NRGCube have introduced new technologies that have made induction heaters not only more energy efficient but more mobile thanks to battery technology. Banquet carts, mobile hot cabinets, and mobile refrigerators have also become even more mobile using battery power from the NRGCube.
“What we have done recently is completely redesign our induction system,” Moreland says. “Our induction system has always been the lowest energy system. Our new system cuts that energy consumption by 50 percent.”
Smart Buffet Ware’s Innovations
Smart Buffet Ware induction heaters are more conductive than others on the market,” Moreland says. Smart Buffet Ware has been able to get its induction heaters down to less than 100 watts. They now include thermostats that dial power back when it is not needed. If a chafing dish is not opened, for example, the wattage required may dip to as low as 64 watts.
Smart Buffet Ware has been able to eliminate the No. 1 reason for induction heater failure: foreign matter such as dirt, oil and steam causing fan failure. They eliminated the fan entirely.
“By eliminating the fan we eliminated the reason for failure and the energy needed to run the fan,” Moreland says.
Also by removing the fan, energy consumption got so low that induction heaters could now be daisy-chained—four plugged into one another and run off one power cord. As many as 16 heaters can run off a standard 20 amp, 110-volt circuit. According to Moreland, most of his competitors can only run three. Smart Buffet Ware’s low power requirements eliminates the need for a property owner to re-wire the building.
More importantly, the low power requirement allows Smart Buffet Ware induction heaters to be run off the company’s new rechargeable lithium battery system. Smart Buffet Ware’s new Natural Eco-System includes a trolley with the battery built in. One can daisy chain up to three heaters using the battery and they can run up to 16 hours. Trolleys can also be connected to one another. For example, one could run nine chafing dishes on three trolleys for five hours.
Not having to be plugged into a wall eliminates tripping hazards caused by unsightly cords and frees one up to serve food from anywhere on a property.
“We are getting tons of calls about the Eco-System,” Moreland says. “The battery can last 10 years and pays for itself in one year.” Smart Buffet Ware intends to launch the Eco-System at the National Restaurant Show. It is being held May 21 to 24 at McCormick Place in Chicago.
The Flexibility of the NRGCube
After spending 15 years with two different manufacturers of mobile foodservice equipment and being exposed to the banqueting niche in Las Vegas, Steve Barta, now owner of Hospitality Solutions Group, LLC, saw a glaring need for something other than canned fuel to keep food hot.
“What drove the investigation was the conflict between the fire department and the health department. Keeping hot food safe for service and the open flames put the two departments at odds,” Barta says. “I had been involved in equipment testing at hotels and observed how the staff misused canned fuel. I knew there had to be a better way to keep food hot and maintain a higher level of food quality. The economics, safety and going green did not surface until after I began my investigation of alternatives to canned fuel. As I began the search for solutions, I was focused on the banquet cart delivery of plated meals to events. It was during this period that I took note of the larger market of chafing dishes and the volume of canned fuel used. I found that induction heaters were available for chafing dishes. During a test of an early system that I had developed for chafing dishes, the executive chef involved his stewarding department, and they wanted the banquet cart issue addressed as well. I went back to the drawing board and began an extensive search for more powerful components. I needed to develop a design that could be used for both chafing dishes and banquet carts.”
What Barta came up with was the NRGCube, a lithium battery that fits under a banquet table or can power a banquet cart. A single NRGCube has a 10 year+ useful life and will replace 40,000+ cans of fuel that wind up in landfills. Oftentimes, cans are thrown away with 30 percent unburnt fuel. NRGCube produces no fumes or CO2 emissions. It powers the induction heaters that provide the magnetic energy to the bottom of the chafing dishes. If used with banquet carts, it runs the electrical system exactly like it is plugged into a wall outlet.
“Operationally, we can view the advantages in two segments—physical and financial,” Barta says. “The physical advantages are that it is mobile, rechargeable and powers the included induction heaters as well as banquet carts when no power is available. Financially it costs 80 percent less than canned fuel over its life.” A payback time of 15 to 18 months can be expected.
NRGCube powers two chafing dishes for six hours. Banquet carts are martialed outside the banquet room and depending on the size of the event there won’t be enough outlets to power all the carts. NRGCube being mobile is parked next to the banquet cart and will power the heating and air circulating system for three hours, Barta says. The recharge time for the NRGCube is three hours but can be less depending on its use. A chef can use an app to check on an NRGCube’s state of charge.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.