Check Your Grill’s Remaining Propane? There’s An App For That

grillz

Ever wonder how many hours of grilling are left in a tank of propane? Makers Frank Vigilante and Brendan Glunz built a prototype device that can be attached to the standard brass valve between a propane tank and grill to measure the internal pressure—and sends the data to an app, so you can check your grill’s fuel level on your phone, in real time.

PitchYourPrototype_125x125_v1“We believe that our solution will not only be a great addition to any residential gas barbecue, but will also serve the needs of many other markets including RV systems, propane home heating systems, commercial filling stations, [and] propane export terminals,” wrote Vigilante and Glunz, who submitted their creation to the ongoing Pitch Your Prototype challenge. “Based on our research, we believe that our approach to the remote monitoring of gas levels in finite storage systems will be the lowest cost and most accurate solution in the market.”

For their first prototype, Vigilante and Glunz connected a digital pressure sensor to an Arduino Uno, which they set up to transmit readings to a custom app over Bluetooth. In a second iteration, they used an Adafruit CC3000 to send data over wifi instead of Bluetooth. The third generation of the project, which they’re still working on, will use a custom circuit board with an ATmega328 chip and an ESP8266 module.

The finished version will switch to sleep mode when the grill is not in use, include “leak detection capabilities” and conform to all regulatory standards, Vigilante and Glunz said.

“Our approach to measuring propane usage is completely different than other solutions because a remotely located central database will receive and analyze the sensor readings and output the fuel level to the user’s smart phone,” Vigilate and Glunz wrote. “We would utilize the proceeds of this challenge to aid in the development of the database, mobile app, and hardware.”

There are lower-tech solutions, it should be noted, to the same problem. Food blog Chow posted a simple, if approximate, method of estimating how much propane is left in a tank using only a glass of water.

There’s only a month left to submit your own project to the Pitch Your Prototype challenge, a collaboration between Make: magazine and Cornell University with the goal of digging up promising prototypes from the Maker community. The individual or team that wins the challenge will be awarded $5,000 and have the opportunity appear onstage at MakerCon New York.

13 thoughts on “Check Your Grill’s Remaining Propane? There’s An App For That

  1. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of Propane is that the pressure in the tank is constant as long as there is any liquid propane (and the temperature stays the same) left in the tank. When you open the valve and release pressure to cook some of the liquid propane evaporates in order to maintain a constant vapor pressure.

    A scale could give you a sense of how much you have left but a pressure gauge is almost useless. A flow gauge with some calculations could also work?

    1. Misha,

      We have found that there are still temporary reductions in pressure while the gas grill is in use. Eventually the liquid and gas mixture will return to equilibrium pressure, but by measuring the temporary reductions in pressure and the time it takes to return to equilibrium after grilling, we have seen promising results.

      1. So basically you are saying that Misha is right?
        Sure you might be able to estimate the propane consumption if you know the mass of gas+tank and the heat input (air temp, sunshine, heat from grill). You need quite a few sensors for that, an then you still only get a rough estimate.
        A scale will give you a much more accurate measurement and can be connected to and Arduino/the internet just as well. That would mean a much lower part count (==cheaper) and you could still do your safety-think-of-the-children-get-rich-internet-of-things database thingie. except: no (IoT sucks, your concept is a little more advanced than a switch with a webpage, but still: no…)

      2. Misha is absolutely correct. As long as liquid gas is in the bottle, the pressure in the bottle only related to the temperature of the liquid gas. Measuring the pressure is simply a way of measuring temperature. The temporary reduction in pressure is due to the refrigerating effect when gas is removed and liquid propane converts to gas. Weight or liquid level are the only ways to measure content. Some tanks have floats, but for portable tanks, weight is best.
        BTW, for generation 3, you don’t need the ATMega328, the ESP8266 can handle it all on its own.

        1. I totally agree that Misha is correct, and I was very frustrated when I purchased a pressure sensor only to realize that it did not work. When grilling, your regulator allows gas to exit the tank based on how high you set your burners. If you increase the amount of gas leaving the tank, you will increase the rate with which temperature inside the tank will drop. Accelerated temperature loss translates into accelerated pressure loss.

          We are hoping to utilize just one micro-controller in the future, however the ESP8266 model used in Gen3 only has an ADC that measures from 0-1V. I have not been able to locate a pressure sensor with excitation voltage between 0-1V, so we are still using the mega328.

  2. DAMN IT! JUST POUR HOT WATER ON THE OUTSIDE OF THE TANK IT WILL CONDENSATE REVEALING THE LEVEL OF GAS STILL IN THE TANK. AT LEAST THATS WHAT WE DID BACK IN WWII BEFORE APPS TOOK OVER COMMON SENSE!

    1. Ernie,

      That is a good trick, but I wanted to be able to tell how much gas was in tank while shopping at the grocery store.

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  4. Appreciate this app, really. I can check in real time and know when it’s time to refill before it runs out. This is great. I’ll wait for this app, especially when it is fully optimized and had that leak detection feature.

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Jon Christian is the co-editor of the Maker Pro Newsletter, which covers the intersection between makers and business. He's also written for the Boston Globe, WIRED and The Atlantic.

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