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Just when you thought you’d seen every possible permutation of product to milk the popularity of the iPhone, along comes one that really takes the biscuit.

It’s called the Pan Charger and, if the name doesn’t give it away, the photo should — it’s a campfire cooking utensil that comes complete with a USB port for recharging a handheld gadget.

Actually, the idea isn’t as silly as it sounds, since the waste heat generated by a fire used to boil a pan of water is sufficient to recharge an iPhone battery in between three to five hours — although that’s an awful lot of hot water to produce in the process…

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The Pan Charger puts out 5V DC at 400mA, which means it really is only suitable for charging small gadgets. The key, however, is evidently a new chemical compound that can efficiently convert extreme heat into electricity, which might pave the way for future products that recycle wasted energy into a more useful power source.

Sadly, there’s no news on the Pan Charger’s availability outside of Japan, so it looks like we’re stuck with more traditional free energy solutions for recharging mobile phones for the time being…

[Pan Charger]