Title:
Gas dispersal box for meals ready-to-eat
Kind Code:
A1


Abstract:
The present invention is a gas dispersion container in which a number of gas-generating devices, such as meals ready-to-eat (MREs), can be positioned. The undesirable gases, such as hydrogen gas, that can be generated by the MREs are dispersed from within the container in a manner that maintains the gas levels in the container below minimum safe levels to avoid an unsafe increase in the concentration of the undesirable gases within the container.



Inventors:
Hickey, Charles P. (Monroe, WI, US)
Application Number:
11/523301
Publication Date:
04/05/2007
Filing Date:
09/19/2006
Primary Class:
Other Classes:
126/261, 126/275R
International Classes:
A47G23/04; F24C1/16; F24V30/00
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Primary Examiner:
LONG, LUANA ZHANG
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
BOYLE FREDRICKSON S.C. (MILWAUKEE, WI, US)
Claims:
What is claimed is:

1. A gas dispersion container comprising: a) an enclosure including a bottom wall, a pair of side walls, a top wall and a pair of end walls forming an interior therebetween, the enclosure adapted to receive a number of gas-generating objects therein; b) a number of intake vents disposed on the exterior of the enclosure; and c) an exhaust mechanism disposed on the enclosure and spaced from the intake vents.

2. The container of claim 1 wherein the enclosure is formed of a paperboard material.

3. The container of claim 2 wherein the container is formed of a corrugated paperboard material.

4. The container of claim 1 wherein walls of the container are integrally formed with one another.

5. The container of claim 1 further comprising an exhaust opening disposed in one wall of the container and to which the exhaust mechanism is mountable.

6. The container of claim 1 wherein the exhaust mechanism includes a pair of tabs on a housing for the mechanism that are engagable within a pair of slots formed in the opening.

7. The container of claim 1 wherein the vents include a pair of tabs engagable within a pair of slots formed within apertures disposed in the container.

8. The container of claim 1 wherein the vents are positioned on multiple walls of the container.

9. The container of claim 8 further comprising multiple vents in each wall of the container.

10. The container of claim 1 wherein the vents are integrally formed with the container.

11. The container of claim 1 wherein the position and number of vents on the container and operating speed and size of the exhaust mechanism are determined by the size and shape of the container and the size and shape of the MREs adapted to be received within the enclosure defined within the container.

12. A method for dispersing an amount of detrimental gas generated by a heating element of an MRE, the method comprising the steps of: a) providing a container including a bottom wall, a pair of side walls, a top wall and a pair of end walls forming an interior therebetween, the container adapted to receive a number of MREs therein, and a number of intake vents disposed on and extending through the container; b) securing an exhaust mechanism to the container; and c) operating the exhaust mechanism to withdraw the detrimental gas out of the container.

13. The method of claim 12 wherein the vents are formed separately from the container and further comprising the step of securing the vents to the container prior to securing the exhaust mechanism to the container.

14. The method of claim 12 further comprising the steps of: a) placing a number of MREs within the container prior to operating the exhaust mechanism; and b) operating a heating element disposed within the MREs.

15. The method of claim 12 further comprising the step of erecting the container prior to securing the exhaust mechanism to the container.

16. The method of claim 15 wherein the step of erecting the container comprises folding the various walls of the container with respect to one another.

17. The method of claim 15 wherein the step of erecting the container comprises securing the various walls of the container to one another.

18. A gas dispersion container comprising: a) an enclosure including a bottom wall, a pair of side walls, a top wall and a pair of end walls forming an interior therebetween, the enclosure adapted to receive a number of gas-generating objects therein; b) a number of intake vents disposed on the exterior of the enclosure with multiple vents in each wall of the container; and c) an exhaust mechanism disposed on the enclosure and spaced from the intake vents.

19. The container of claim 18 wherein the vents are integrally formed with the container.

20. The container of claim 18 wherein the exhaust mechanism is a low operating voltage fan.

Description:

CROSS-REFERENCE TO RELATED APPLICATION

This application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 60/718,867, filed on Sep. 20, 2005, which is expressly incorporated herein in its entirety.

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

The present invention relates to self-heating containers for meals, and more specifically to an enclosure for a number of containers capable of dispersing gases generated thereby.

BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

Meals ready-to-eat (MREs) have been in existence for a long period of time and enable an individual to prepare an edible meal in remote locations. One drawback with regard to these types of meals involves the undesirable byproducts from the reaction the chemical reactants utilized to generate the heat employed to prepare the meals. One of the most problematic byproducts produced by reactants of this type is hydrogen gas. The major concern with hydrogen gas is that it is highly flammable, such that when hydrogen gas is present in concentrations above a certain level, the gas may spontaneously combust.

As a result, it is desirable to develop a device and method for either removing or maintaining the level of hydrogen gas produced by the chemical reagents utilized to heat MREs at a level below that which the hydrogen gas can become dangerous.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

It is a primary aspect of the present invention to provide a container for holding one or more MREs that can quickly disperse and/or remove the undesirable gases, such as hydrogen gas, generated by the chemical reactants fueling heater elements used to prepare the MREs. The container is provided with a number of gas dispersal outlets or vents formed at various locations around the container and that extend completely through the container, through which the ambient air surrounding the container can be drawn into the container. By drawing amounts of the ambient air into the container through the outlets, this consequently reduces the overall amount and corresponding concentration of undesirable gases generated by the heating elements used to prepare the MREs within the container. The ambient air is drawn into the container through the vents by an exhaust fan connected to the container to increase the total amount of ambient air in the container. Concurrently, the fan is also operable to urge or expel the undesirable gases held within the container out of the container, such as the hydrogen gas, out of the container.

It is another object of the present invention to provide a container that is formed of readily available elements such that the container has a relatively simple construction that can be easily manufactured and utilized by individuals employing the MREs in a variety of locations.

Numerous other aspects, features and advantages of the present invention will be made apparent from the following detailed description taken together with the drawing figures.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The drawings illustrate the best mode currently contemplated as practicing the present invention.

In the drawings:

FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a gas dispersion container constructed according to the present invention; and

FIG. 2 is a front isometric view of a vent connected to the container of FIG. 1.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

With reference now to the drawing figures in which like reference numerals designate like parts throughout the disclosure, a gas dispersion container constructed according to the present invention is indicated generally at 10 in FIG. 1. The container 10 can be formed of any suitable material, but is preferably formed of a paperboard material, such as a corrugated paperboard, in order to be lightweight, but also to provide insulating properties to the container 10 as a result of the enclosed spaces (not shown) defined within a corrugated paperboard. Forming the container 10 out of a paperboard material also allows the container 10 to be formed of a blank of the paperboard material to be able to be stored flat, and subsequently erected when ready for use. The container 10 is also illustrated in FIG. 1 as being generally rectangular in shape in order to accommodate the rectangular shape of the meals ready-to-eat (MREs) 12 illustrated as being utilized with the container 10. However, container 10 can also be shaped as desired in order to accommodate the particular shape of the MREs 12 to be utilized with container 10.

The container 10 includes a bottom wall 14 connected to a pair of upwardly extending side walls 16 and 18 on opposite sides of the bottom wall 14. A top wall 20 extends between the side walls 16 and 18 generally opposite the bottom wall 14 in order to define an enclosure 22 therebetween. A rear wall 24 is secured across the adjacent ends of each of the bottom wall 14, side walls 16 and 18, and top wall 20, while a pivotable cover 26 is movably connected at one end to the bottom wall 14 opposite the end wall 24. The cover 26 can be pivoted with respect to the container 10 in order to position the cover 26 over an open end 28 of the enclosure 22 to effectively seal the container 10. Also, as described previously, the various walls 14-20 and 24 and cover 26 of the container 10 can be integrally formed from a blank of a suitable material, or can be formed separately from one another, such as out of a lightweight plastic material, for later connection to one another to assemble the container 10.

The MREs 12 positionable within the enclosure 22 defined by the container 10 can be any conventional MRE known in the art. Further, the container 10 can be designed to accommodate a single MRE 12, or a plurality of MREs 12 as shown in FIG. 1.

When the MREs 12 are activated to prepare the meals contained therein, reactants (not shown) disposed within chemical heaters (not shown) located within the MREs 12 are contacted with one another to generate heat as a result of the exothermic reactions caused by the reactants. These reactions generate as byproducts undesirable amounts of certain gases, such as hydrogen gas, which are expelled from the heaters via vents (not shown), out of the MREs 12 and into the enclosure 22 defined by the interior of the container 10.

To remove these gases generated by the heaters in the MREs 12 from within the enclosure 22, an opening 29 is formed in one wall 14-20 and 24 or in the cover 26 of the container 10 to which can be secured an exhaust fan 30. The fan 30 is releasably secured over or within the opening 29 in the container 10. The opening 29 can be performed within any wall of the container 10, but preferably is formed in the end wall 24, and the fan 30 can be secured in the opening 29 during the initial construction of the container 10 or can be created by removing a perforated portion (not shown) of the container 10 immediately prior to use that, when removed, defines the opening 29. In one embodiment, the fan 30 can be releasably connected to the container within the opening 29 where the fan 30 is constructed with a housing 44 including a pair of outwardly extending tabs 46 engageable within slots 48 defined in the periphery of the opening 29 that form a bayonet engagement. However, the fan 30 can be secured to the container 10 using any suitable means, such as a one or more securing straps (not shown) extending around the container 10 and the fan 30, or a sliding mechanism (not shown) formed by a pair of brackets (not shown) disposed on the wall 24 on opposite sides of the opening 29 that slidably engage the tabs 46 to enable the fan 30 to be releasably slid into position over the opening 29.

The exhaust fan 30 can be constructed in any suitable configuration, such as an explosion-proof fan with a low operating voltage to minimize the chance of combustion of the gas, so long as the fan 30 is relatively lightweight in order to enable the fan 30 to be utilized effectively with the container 10. The fan 30 is operably connectable to a suitable power source (not shown), such as a battery contained in the fan 30, or to a separate power source from the fan 30 and container 10, such as via a cord and plug (not shown). The fan 30 operates to draw the air within the enclosure 22 outwardly from the container 10, thereby curing the undesirable gases, such as hydrogen gas, that are being generated within the container 10.

In order to replace the gases being withdrawn from within the enclosure 22 by the exhaust fan 30, ambient air from the environment around the container 10 is drawn into enclosure 22 through a number of vents 32 disposed on the walls 14-20 and 24 of the container 10. The vents 32 are disposed within openings 34 formed in the various walls 14-20 and 24 and allow the ambient air to be drawn through the respective walls 14-20 and 24 into the enclosure 22, as the air containing the hydrogen gas within enclosure 22 is expelled by the fan 30. The vents 32 in one embodiment shown in FIG. 2, have a peripheral rim 36 from which extend a pair of tabs 38. The tabs 38 are engageable with slots 40 defined on opposed sides of the openings 34, such as a bayonet closure, in order to secure the vents 32 within the openings 34. The vents 32 can be engaged permanently within the openings 34 through the engagement of the tabs 38 and slots 40 prior to use of the container 10, or may be connected within openings 34 immediately prior to the use of the container 30. In this situation, the openings 34 are created by displacing cutouts (not shown) formed in the respective walls 14-20 and securing the vents 32 within the openings 34.

In order to control the air flow through the vents 32, the vents 32 are also formed with a number of louvers 50 extending across the peripheral rim 36 and a number of cross members 52 extending across the rim 36 perpendicular to the louvers 50 provide support thereto. These louvers 50 can be movable within the vents 32, such that incoming air flow can be controlled by changing the position of the louvers 50. Also, the openings 34 can be formed with slits (not shown) extending through one or more of the container walls 14-20, 24 and 26 such that the vents 32 are formed directly in the material forming the container 10 as opposed to as separate items to be secured to the container 10. In this embodiment, the vents 32 can be covered by plastic covers (not shown) adhesively secured to the container 10 over the vents 32, that can be pulled off of the container 10 to expose the vents 32 prior to use.

In order to reduce the overall weight of the container 10, fan 30 and vents 32, the fan 30 and vents 32 are preferably formed of a lightweight material, such as a plastic, that is easily moldable into the shape required for both the fan 30 and vents 32.

In order to most effectively remove an effective amount of undesirable gases, such as hydrogen gas, generated by the MREs 12 positioned within the container 10, computational fluid dynamics are utilized to determined the proper location of the openings 34 and corresponding vents 32 in conjunction with the size and exhaust flow rate generated by the fan 30. The results of the computational fluid dynamics must be optimized in order to create the proper amount of withdrawal of gases from within container 10 to achieve a concentration of gases within the container 10 below a minimum safety level, while also maintaining a sufficient amount of heated air within the container 10 for a sufficient period of time to properly prepare the MREs 12.

In order to perform this task, the particular structure of container 10 and the MREs 12 positioned within container 10 must be analyzed in order to determine how airflow into and out of container 10 will be affected by the shape of the container 10 and of the MREs 12. This is accomplished by first determining the size and shape of the container 10 and the size and shape of the MREs 12 that are positioned within the enclosure 22 of the container 10 to figure out the total amount of available air space in the container 10 and where this air space is located. Also, the amount of undesirable gas or gases generated by the MREs 12 over time is determined, i.e., how long the overall reaction occurs once the MREs 12 are activated, how much gas is generated during the overall reaction, as well as the time required for the reaction to reach the peak production of the undesirable gas and the time from this peak to the complete stoppage of all gas production. This is determined in order to provide a basis for how much of the gas must be removed from within the container 10 within the same time period to maintain the atmosphere within container 10 below a minimum concentration level for the gas while also allowing the reaction to sufficiently heat the MREs 12. Additionally, the locations on the MREs 12 from which the gas is being generated are also determined, as well as other factors concerning the potential concentration levels and locations of the undesirable gas or gases within the container 10, such as how the heat of the reactants and the MREs 12 may affect the disposition of the gases inside the container 10.

By determining this information, it is possible to determine the exact amount of the undesirable gas or gases being generated by the MREs 12 and what maximum volume of the gas can be present in the enclosure 22 of the container 10 to meet the required minimum concentration of the gas. Further, with this information, a minimum airflow in cubic feet per minute (CFM) from the exhaust fan 30 can be calculated in order to determine the size and operating speed necessary for the fan 30, as well as the size and airflow rates achievable through the vents 32. This enables a fan 30 to be selected that can be operated at a level or speed that exceeds the minimum requirements for gas removal to prevent the undesirable gases from reaching or exceeding the minimum safe concentration limits. Also, by knowing where the highest concentrations of the gases are likely to occur within the container 10, the size and positioning of the fan 30 and the vents 32 can be determined to optimize the air flow out into and out of the container 10 to reduce the undesirable gas concentration in the container 10, while also allowing the MREs 12 to be heated within the container 10 in a suitably fast manner.

Various alternatives are contemplated as being within the scope of the following claims particularly pointing out and distinctly claiming the subject matter regarded as the invention.