Solar-Powered Cooker Wins Climate Competition

This article was published by Newsletter, issue #60, . This was my 300th published article.

Being able to obtain boiling water quickly, easily, and safely, is taken for granted by most members of developed nations. But for the estimated three billion people around the globe who still use firewood to cook, obtaining boiling water is anything but quick, easy, and safe. In fact, millions of children become sick every year — and many of them die — due to a lack of access to clean drinking water; while the most common way to purify non-bottled water, in impoverished areas, is by boiling. Furthermore, smoke inhalation is oftentimes unavoidable for mothers and their families, and results in untold health problems and household fires. Thus there is a clear and immediate need for a reliable method whereby low-income people in developing nations can boil water without resorting to burning wood, animal dung, and other substances that give off carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

The answer may be the Kyoto Box, a solar-powered cooker made of common materials — mostly cardboard, acrylic, and aluminum foil — that can be built for roughly five euros, and yet provide an incalculable benefit to humanity and the environment. It is made using two boxes that, ironically enough, leverage the greenhouse effect: One box is placed within the other, with a clear acrylic cover on top, which lets in the sunshine and traps the heat. The outer box is lined with aluminum foil to concentrate the heat on the inner box, which is painted black to better absorb the UV rays. The inner box can be insulated from the outer one by separating them with straw, wadded up newspaper, or some other light material. The Kyoto Box can boil ten liters of water in two hours, which is more than enough for the typical family's needs.

The device was designed by Jon Bøhmer, a Kenya-based entrepreneur and owner of the design firm Kyoto Energy. He notes that his company can produce these ingenious devices with corrugated plastic instead of cardboard, for greater durability, yet at the same cost as the cardboard prototypes. He is planning on deploying 10,000 such cookers in ten countries, including India, Indonesia, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda. He hopes to use the data from these trials to apply for carbon credits, which could generate a yearly profit of up to 30 euros per cooker. Any excess revenues can then be used to launch other solar-powered products, such as a torch, a smokeless cooker to burn biomass, and a plastic bag that heats and cleans water.

The Kyoto Box is such a simple yet potentially invaluable invention that it won the most recent FT Climate Change Challenge, which is a worldwide competition intended to attract the most innovative solutions for our climate change problems. It was announced on 9 April 2009 that Bøhmer's cooker edged out more than 300 other entries, taking the first prize of $75,000. The competition was sponsored by technology giant Hewlett-Packard, and created in conjunction with the Financial Times (FT) and Forum for the Future. The winner was chosen based on public votes from a panel of business leaders and climate change experts. The prize money will be used to fund the aforesaid trials in various countries.

Copyright © 2009 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.
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