FALL 1997  >  BYU TODAY  >  LOOK MA, NO SMOKE: SOLAR COOKER TO RELIEVE SUFFERING
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LOOK MA, NO SMOKE: SOLAR COOKER TO RELIEVE
SUFFERING


By Heather McDonald

A BYU physics professor concerned about millions of children in the Third World each year who die from respiratory illnesses has designed a funnel-shaped solar cooker to help reduce smoke inhalation from open-fire cooking.

Steven E. Jones and the student assistants who helped design and test the cooker during the past two years have applied for a patent. They say their solar cooker is either safer or more effective and much less expensive than other solar cookers already on the market.

"We primarily want to make solar cooking available to sunshine-rich, Third World countries that suffer for want of fuel," Jones says. "However, solar cooking is also useful to campers, hikers, and people interested in preserving forests."

Jones cites the scholarly journal Scientific American as saying that 5 million Third World children succumb to respiratory illnesses every year. Refugees, he says, must often trade their relief food for sticks because they do not have fuel to cook with. Women and children spend as many as eight hours a day looking for enough fuel--usually dung--to last a few hours.

"I hope to alleviate this kind of suffering by making it possible for people to cook without burning any kind of fuel at all," he adds. Jones' solar funnel is designed to cook food using only the energy of the sun's rays. The funnel concentrates the sun's energy into a cooking jar enclosed in an air-filled plastic bag. This results in a greenhouse effect, because the air inside is heated by the sun. The funnel acts like a crock pot, cooking food slowly at about 240 degrees Fahrenheit.

In side-by-side tests with the two other solar cookers on the market, the solar funnel heated water about three times faster than the Solar Coo Kit. The box oven was slightly faster than the Solar Coo model.

Earlier this year, the Benson Institute took prototypes of the funnel to Altiplano, Bolivia, where native university students tested the effectiveness of the solar cooker at high altitudes and compared it with the box cooker. They found that the solar funnel purified water in less than half the time it took the box oven, and while the funnel boiled an egg in an hour, the box oven never did fully cook the egg.

Jones says the biggest obstacles in marketing the solar funnel in Third World regions are strong traditions that make it difficult for people to try new things. He is researching ways to overcome that barrier.

"If people can understand the benefits, and if they perceive that Americans and Western countries are using the products, then they will be more willing to try," he explains.

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