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Building a solar cooker for sustainable cooking

If building a solar cooker was an option for people all around the world, then we could reduce the need to continue burning our precious natural resources for cooking purposes. Yet as a species, we continue to burn wood or gas to cook our food on a daily basis while our natural resources keep dwindling. 

If we were able to use solar power instead of burning wood or gas, we could take a huge step towards reducing our impact on the planet. And then there’s the number of empty propane canisters left behind on camping trips, polluting the environment... While this all may sound like idealism, in fact it could be a reality in the future because of the reliability of the sun and the effectiveness of solar cookers.

Much research has been put into developing solar ovens and other solar cookers for use in the lesser developed parts of the world. These products were given for free to many less fortunate people all over the world. Producing more of these cookers could go a long way in reducing pollution on this planet. 

The only issue with some of the solar cookers, especially parabolic cookers, is that they can be a fire hazard due to the fact that some of them focus the sun’s rays into such a concentrated point that they can quickly set things ablaze. Luckily, more advanced cookers are now on the market, which are simple to build and use without losing any efficiency.

Solar cookers are also a great option for those wishing to reduce the environmental impact of their homes on the planet. While solar cookers may not be able to completely replace a conventional oven just yet, they are still an extremely effective and emission free way of cooking food. They are also a great alternative on camping trips and other outdoor activities, eliminating the need to pack around propane or any other fuel with you while camping or hiking in the mountains. 

How Solar Cookers Work

If you want to build a solar cooker, the first step is to understand exactly how solar cookers harness and concentrate the sun’s heat to thoroughly cook food. Some solar cookers focus the sun’s rays into a concentrated point, with the food being placed directly above this point. These designs are known as parabolic cookers and are crude and inefficient compared to more modern designs. The other type of cooker is known as a box cooker. Box cookers let sunlight into a box through a glass lid, and the sunlight is then reflected inside the box. The food is placed inside and cooked through this reflection of light and heat.

Build a Solar Parabolic Cooker

solar cookerThe designs for parabolic cookers are quite simple and fairly effective, but the major drawback is that they tend to be unsafe as they can quickly set things on fire. Remember when you were a kid and you used a magnifying glass to focus the sun’s light onto one small point? 

This is exactly what parabolic cookers do, albeit with a slightly larger reflecting dish. There are many designs available online, but the effectiveness of the parabolic cooker depends solely on the size of your reflector and how concentrated the achieved beam of light is. The advantage of solar parabolic cookers is that they can be quickly and easily put together, with only a few parts to worry about. 

If you know how to construct a solar parabolic cooker, this information could be vital in an emergency or survival situation when no other means of cooking or purifying water are available. Even a very crudely constructed parabolic cooker is capable of boiling water or cooking food, although the cooking process may take longer with some of the simplest designs.

Constructing a Solar Box Cooker 

solar box cookerSolar box cookers or ovens are also quite simple to build and use. They usually consist of an insulated box, sometimes lined with a reflective material such as aluminum foil, and a glass or plastic lid, which is sometimes also reflective. Light - and more importantly, heat - passes through the lid into the box and is contained in the box due to the insulation, thus slowly heating the box and cooking the food. 

One of the major drawbacks of solar box cookers is that heat can quickly escape, especially if the lid of the box is opened to put in or take out food. This is important to keep in mind when constructing your solar oven, as it is important to make it as insulated as you possibly can, in order to retain more heat. 

Another surefire way to increase the efficiency of your solar oven, is to ensure you use a lid that will reflect the light into the box, thus taking advantage of parabolic cooking as well. 

Solar box ovens can be made in a variety of sizes, but keep in mind that the larger the box, the more time it will take to cook your food. A major advantage of solar box ovens is that they are usually very lightweight, so they can be constructed at home and taken just about anywhere. 

Step by Step Instructions For Building a Solar Box Cooker

The items you’ll need to build a solar cooker are two cardboard boxes, one slightly larger than the other, and the larger box should have a lid; aluminum foil; non-toxic glue; plastic wrap or clear oven bags (this is a much cheaper option for the lid than glass); a roll of tape; and a small piece of wire to prop the lid open.

Step 1: First, take the lid for the larger box and place it upside down with the smaller box on top of it. You’ll need to mark the outsides of the box on the lid with a marker. Take the box off and measure in ΒΌ inch from each line. Now cut along the new lines front line and the sides, leaving the back attached. This will be the lid flap that will help redirect light into your cooker, so you want to ensure that it is slightly smaller than the small box to ensure no air is able to escape between the boxes. Fold along you last remaining line so the lid flap is open.

Step 2: Now, you need to glue a layer of aluminum foil to the inside of the smaller box and also to the lid flap. Then, place the smaller box inside the larger one, making sure there is a small gap between the two. This air pocket eliminates the need for any additional insulation of your cooker. Now place the lid on to make sure that there is no visible gap between the boxes.

Step 3: Glue the lid to the two boxes, making sure to leave the lid flap open. You may need to place some small pieces of cardboard inside the air gap between the boxes to keep them from shifting around. Your cooker should now be one solid unit.

Step 4: The final step is to place your food inside the box, and then tightly tape your plastic wrap or oven bags over the opening in the smaller box, ensuring that it is airtight. This will trap the heat inside your box. Now use your piece of wire to prop the lid flap open at around a 60 to 70 degree angle to reflect sunlight into the box. You’ll need to take the plastic wrap off to check the food, but this is true of any box cooker.

Keeping a solar oven in your home for emergency purposes is a good idea, as you will be able to cook and purify water even when there are no other energy sources available. You can be assured that whatever design you choose when building your solar cooker, the end result will be a completely clean and effective means of cooking food.

They are a great addition to any emergency or survival kit, as the sun’s energy is always freely available. Even if no other power or fuel sources are available, you can rest comfortably knowing that you’ll always be able to purify your drinking water and cook your food through the use of simple, yet effective solar energy.

If you're interested in other cool DIY solar projects, we recommend the Renewable Energy Innovation website, that has tons of cool ideas, including solar cookers but also other neat stuff.

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