When I started the build, of course, the question arose what kind of heat source would be best for cooking? There are a lot of different heat sources and even more opinions about what works best. the ones we evaluated are:
A diesel cooker, because the vehicle runs on diesel. This type of cooker is very expensive. And on top of that I did not find many good reviews about its functioning. And even less so when you go for altitude, because the combustion precess has to be adjusted or the system will fail because of excessive amounts of soot. Besides that, for a small camper van the installation is quite bulky and complex: you need an air intake and exhaust, quite some space needs to be reserved for the entire installation and it takes a while to pre-heat. In my opinion this type of cooking plate is best reserved for trucks.
Induction. Because we have a solar panel, why not generate more electrical power so that we can cook on, for example, an induction plate? Of all electrical cooking devices, induction has the best efficiency. I calculated a lot on this topic. I would say that, if you only cook one hot meal per day for two persons, and are willing to upgrade your household batteries to 24V, it would certainly be possible for a small camper van. If you want more information about this, contact me.
Gasoline, because it is available everywhere. Who did not, once in it’s camping life, use or come across a Coleman burner or the likes? It works well, and certainly with a bit of maintenance can be a dependable heat source for cooking. But it must be used outdoors, and when you kill the burners after cooking, a strong smell of gasoline comes off the burners until it cools down enough. Again, a reason to use it outdoors only. Once, on a camp ground, I came across two German guys who had a two-burner Coleman stove, and they were priming the system to set it alight. unfortunately the pre-heating had not gone well, and before you could blink an eye, they had created an inferno the size of the entire cooking plate with flames reaching for the skies, and it almost left the camp ground burned down to the ground. With these things it is important to know what you are doing..
Gas. Also available around the world, because it is widely used in domestic cooking and heating. Unfortunately, there exist as many “standards” for transporting and connecting a gas container, as there are countries in the world. despite this drawback I started with using gas. Perhaps also because I already had a suitable cooking plate. I used a campingaz 907 bottle at first. it contains about 2.75 kg of gas. I worked well until we once were on our way in wintertime….the burners would not start, because the ambient temperature had dropped to around 0 degrees Celsius. So, better check beforehand what kind of gas is in the container: Butane, Propane, or a mix? Butane (C4H10) turns into a liquid around 0 degrees Celsius. when this happens, there is no more gaseous vapour which is needed to burn safely. Propane (C3H8) does a lot better, since it turns into a liquid at -42 degrees Celsius, but practically -30 is used.. That’s lower than we need…
So, to avoid not being able to cook at an ambient temperature of 0 or lower, I switched to use a 2.5kg DIN bottle, the standard where I live. This bottle is filled with Propane. Take note that a bottle needs to be suited to contain Propane, as this gas has a much higher pressure compared to Butane:
|Temperature [C]||Butane(C4H10)||Propane (C3H8)|
|-42||0 bar||0 bar|
|0||0 bar||4 bar|
|5||0.8 bar||4.7 bar|
|15||1.7 bar||6.5 bar|
|30||2.0 bar||10 bar|
the 2.5 kg bottle that I used barely fitted inside the van, and to be safe a gas bottle should be placed inside a closed casing that only ventilates to the outside. (to prevent gas leaking inside the camper). All considered, it was not the best solution.
Gravity filling of a gas bottle
How do you fill a bottle? Normally, a gas bottle is filled at a special place, purposely created for this task. Each bottle can contain a specific quantity of gas, 80% of total bottle volume, and this is usually measured by weight. This method makes sure that an air gap remains present in the bottle to allow the gas to expand when temperature rises. If no air gap is present, the bottle could burst at higher temperatures. Normal gas bottles are therefore filled using a weighing scale. And I guess that is one of the reasons, besides different couplings, that it is almost impossible to get your domestic bottle filled in another country. To get around this problem, a bottle can be gravity filled. Numerous instructions and explanations can be found on the web. It can be safe, but again, only if you know what you are doing.
Fixed gas cylinder
So, gas certainly has some drawbacks too.. Despite this, we still use it to this day, but now we have a full-grown installation that uses a vapour LPG cylinder. LPG stands for Liquid Petroleum Gas and usually it is a mixture of Butane and Propane, depending on region or use. In theory, when it is cold enough for long enough, the Propane would burn leaving only Butane behind, but I have not experienced this yet.
the advantage of such a cylinder is:
- more capacity (~9.9kg versus 2.5kg)
- gas is stored and transported on the outside of vehicle
- cylinder is tested at high pressures, it should survive a crash when everything else is obliterated beyond recognition
- it has a safety valve at 23 bar
- LPG can be obtained autonomous at selected gas stations
- in theory we can be supplied by a bobtail truck (for household delivery)
- in theory we can gravity fill without the risk of overfilling (80% filling stop inside cylinder)