“Projects ‘for the 90%’ mostly fall somewhere between two extremes: charity and business,” designer Gabriele Diamanti stated. “Neither was my inspiration!” Instead, spurred on by his own extensive travel and friends’ involvement in NGOs, he developed a fascination with global water scarcity as a graduate student at Milan Polytechnic in 2005; he recently decided to pursue his interest again and the result is Eliodomestico, an open-source variation on a solar still.
Cooking with a solar oven is probably the greenest method of preparing your food or water. It is also one of the most easily accessible forms of solar power.
A solar oven is a device that harnesses sunlight to create heat energy. It doesn’t use any fuel, and it doesn’t cost a thing to operate it. It can help slow down the deforestation and desertification caused by harvesting natural resources which are used in conventional fuel production.
In theory, no more trees would be cut to be used for making charcoal, if everyone switched to using solar ovens. And, while the use of a solar oven is not always feasible, a better understanding of their use can open up many doors and new possibilities.
There are many solar oven designs, but each of them uses the same basic principles. They concentrate sunlight, using mirrors or other types of reflective metal, into their designated cooking areas. The more concentrated the light, the more potent the concentration will be.
Diamanti's design functions by filling the black boiler with salty sea water in the morning, then tightening the cap. As the temperature and pressure grows, steam is forced downwards through a connection pipe and collects in the lid, which acts as a condenser, turning the steam into fresh water. Once Diamanti established the fundamentals were sound, he experimented with a series of concepts for the aesthetic of the object. “My goal was to design something friendly and recognizable for the users,” he explains. “The process developed quite naturally to determine the current shape; every detail is there for a reason, so the form, as well as production techniques, represent a compromise between technical and traditional.” Primary field studies in sub-Saharan Africa revealed the habit of carrying goods on the head--also a common practice in other areas around the world--and this was integrated into Eliodomestico’s plan. And while solar stills aren’t a totally new concept, Diamanti says it’s rare to find them in a domestic context rather than in missions or hospitals, or as large plants overseen by qualified personnel that serve entire communities. “I tried to make something for a real household that could be operated directly by the families,” he says.
The project recently won a Core77 Design Award for Social Impact; already, Diamanti has received international feedback, and hopes to see locals adapt and modify the design to take advantage of their own readily available materials and native environments. “The idea is that instructions for the project can be delivered to craftsmen” with the help of NGOs, he says, then a micro-credit program could be established to finance small-scale start-ups specializing in production. “So the NGO is the spark, micro-credit is the fuse, the local craftsmen are the bomb!”
Check out a more in-depth discussion on Solar cooking and solar cookers around the world.