Australia. A term synonymous with deadly creatures, beautiful landscapes and of course… BBQs. What would an Aussie backyard be without the essential gas powered grilling machine that is recognised as a birth-right among Australians?
But we as Aussies, do face one particular problem in our BBQing habits – firing up the old girl only to realise your gas bottle is empty. Anguish ensues.
An alternative to the gas bottle BBQ: The solar powered BBQ
What if there was a way to guarantee BBQ activities without depending on a gas bottle? What if you could save money on gas while simultaneously setting yourself up for hassle-free BBQing any time of the day or night? What if you could reduce your harmful gas emissions by avoiding the use of charcoal, wood chips or LPG Gas?
Enter the Wilson Solar Cooker. This ingenious BBQ concept is being developed by a professor and his group of students at MIT university in the US. Solar grills have been around for awhile, however their biggest pitfall was they didn’t have the capacity to store energy, meaning BBQing was only able to occur during the day when the sun was out.
But now the dream of BBQing using the sun’s energy at any time of day or night is slowly becoming a reality.
But the proposed Wilson Solar Cooker has a much more serious purpose. It was developed to revolutionise the process of cooking in developing countries that receive generous sun light such as Nigeria and other parts of Africa where millions of people live without electricity, and toxic smoke from cooking kills more people than malaria and HIV/AIDS combined.
The solar powered BBQ will collect thermal energy from the sun and store it to allow cooking times of up to 25 hours at temperatures above 230 degrees Celsius. The technology uses a plastic fresnal lens to capture the sun’s energy to melt down a container of lithium nitrate salt. The salt becomes molten hot throughout the day and serves as a solar battery by retaining heat for up to 6 hours after the sun sets. The lens is removed after dark, and the user need only remove the lid and place their food on the hot plate to commence cooking.
Professor and mechanical engineer Dave Wilson commented that while living and teaching in Nigera he learned that, “People like to cook in the evening, sit under trees, enjoy themselves, and eat,” Existing solar cookers require people (mostly women) to sit and cook in the tropical sun during the hottest part of the day, inhaling toxic fumes and requiring young girls to spend their days gathering wood for the fires.
“When I came out of Nigeria I got very keen on solar cookers,” he says.
After 20 years of experimenting in his basement, Wilson’s idea started coming to life.
“My wife wasn’t thrilled about all the time and money I was spending on this in the basement.” he says. But thanks to a US$50,000 grant from Indian charitable organization, TATA Trust, Wilson’s solar powered BBQ is ready for its first field tests over the next two years.
If the idea comes to fruition and adoption successfully, it could mean reducing the number of deaths caused by toxic smoke inhalation and contribute to better conservation of the world’s forests. It would also mean young girls in developing countries could better spend their time at school, rather than collecting fire wood for the village.
The incredible concept could then easily be translated to benefit both developing and developed countries, further compounding efforts to reduce carbon missions and deforestation.
Image: Artist’s impression only.