The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers
Copyright © 1991 by Barbara Prosser Kerr
To order a printed copy including photos and diagrams send $15 US to this address:
Kerr-Cole Solar Box Cookers
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The goal of being in harmony with nature led me to what has become a lifes dedication of research in Solar Box Cookers. The publishing of The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers represents the development and growth of Solar Box Cookers (SBCs) along with the practical knowledge and the potentials of SBCs generated during the past 17 years. Hopefully, this book will fill the need for background information so designers may utilize our fund of knowledge as they work to design locally appropriate SBCs.
I am greatly indebted to Sherry Cole, my good friend and business partner in solar box cookers. She had the initial vision and has held it firmly over the years. The quiet mainstay of the work, she has been unstinting with her financial and emotional support. She has devoted herself to personally handling both the office from her home in Tempe, Arizona and the production warehouse for the EcoCookers and kits in South Phoenix. She has been irreplaceable in critiquing, proofing and editing my designs and writings. Most of the time, she has appeared to have had the time of her life, radiating joy, carrying us through the highs and lows of years of effort. But, it seems to me that I got the best, most fun, part of SBC pioneering work in tinkering with designs and eventually establishing the Kerr-Cole Experimental Home in Taylor, Arizona.
Sherry and I are particularly grateful to Renz Jennings who made the "worm barn" on his ranch in south Phoenix available to us for storage and also for use as the production base for all our solar box cookers and kits. Without this gift, which has continued over the years, we could never have produced our lines of wooden Patio SBCs and cardboard EcoCookers.
We are also indebted to Dr. Robert Metcalf, his wife Mary Beth and sons Tom and Jim. Bob has deep practical experience with SBCs through cooking main meals for his family during every summer season since 1978. He also has a firm commitment to seeing solar box cookers used to reduce human suffering and environmental devastation and has inspired many hundreds of people in the Sacramento area and elsewhere to adopt the convenience of solar boxes. Since 1978 he has supported and guided students in the study of various aspects of solar box cooker technology; and has been a national and international advocate/ambassador for the use of SBCs. At California State University, Sacramento, where he is a professor of Biological Sciences, he was asked to present the Livingston Annual Faculty Lecture in part because of his work with SBCs. He devoted his 1990 Sabbatical year solely to solar box cookers and is current president of SBCI.
Further, we are indebted to Bev Blum who had the original vision of a nonprofit educational organization for SBCs. The group of deeply dedicated volunteers organized Solar Box Cookers International. Under her guidance this volunteer organization has disseminated knowledge of solar box cookers, allowing for the technology to be adapted to a variety of forms suitable for meeting local needs and customs world wide. She has nurtured SBCI through its tender initial development and is now faithfully shepherding it through its "awkward age" of rapidly expanding growth.
I deeply appreciate the generous permissions received from Heidi Kirschner, MD, SBCI, Mark Aalfs and Tom Sponheim to republish material from their work, including a representative selection of plans.
Others too numerous to mention have contributed money, time, energy and wisdom. With their enthusiastic input, the solar box cooker effort has soared. Integrating solar box cookers into our homes has established the validity of the vision. This book is offered to them with thanks.
In particularly I want to thank Georgianna Borgens, Rick Blodgett, Germaine Cain, Don Coan, Joe Cook, Yvonne Freeman, Mary Lou Krause, Dave Martin, Chris Roth, Gwynne Smith, Bill Sperber, and all the other friends for their joint work with me, their criticisms and for their help with the preparation of this manuscript. Their support, generous sharing of time and information have made it possible to present the work in this form.
I have special thanks for Tom Sponheim who shepherded the effort for the greater part of a year, encouraging me when completion seemed impossible, then editing and preparing the manuscript for the printer. He has been a real friend in deed. Without him, this book would never have seen the light of day.
Barbara Prosser Kerr
The Expanding World of Solar Box Cookers is targeted toward people who are familiar with solar box cookers and the literature distributed by Solar Box Cookers International and Solar Box Cookers Northwest. Probably most readers will have extensive experience in daily solar cooking as well as with building their own SBC. Nevertheless, I hope it will equally serve the interested SBC neophyte. The first eight chapters, by far the largest section, will focus on the rich detail surrounding this emerging technology; the last two chapters will give several fairly simple cardboard plans and instructions for using a solar box cooker along with beginning recipes.
Responsibility for the contents of this book and the form it has taken rests solely with me. I ask that my readers inform me as to any errors identified and new information obtained by their personal experience so corrections and updates can be incorporated into future material.
I assume some sections of this book may be read without reference to the whole. Therefore, I ask also for tolerance of sections where safety precautions have been repeated in different contexts. Nevertheless, safety in the use of techniques in this book is the responsibility of the SBC user.
Solar box cookers (SBCs) are the earliest form of solar cooking in Western culture. An early European record of cooking in a solar box was made by Horace de Saussure, a Swiss naturalist experimenting as early as 1767. He reported successfully cooking fruits at that time with initial temperatures of 189.5 F (87.5 C). Over the years, de Saussure and others focused their solar box cooker design work on variations of shape, size, sidings, glazings, insulations, reflectors, and the composition and reflectance of the internal surfaces.
These components have been varied endlessly in an effort to increase solar box temperatures. Our solar boxes now successfully reach temperatures between 275 -300 F (135 -149 C), depending on size and location of use. Since many foods will cook with an internal temperature of 190 F (88 C) and water boils at 212 F (100 C) at sea level, it is clear that solar box cookers have reached adequate cooking temperatures for a long time.
Meanwhile, the higher temperatures of cooking over fire have continued to force us to stir foods and protect them from scorching from excessive bottom heat, while needless amounts of fuel and human labor have been unnecessarily used. Now, we can do better than that by using readily available, free solar energy whenever the sun shines.
At the time I was first exploring solar cooking, my home was dedicated to developing Earth-Conscious Homemaking. I was exploring all the ways that could be used in an urban home to reduce consumption of earth resources. As a part of this effort, I made and used a lot of solar cookers. At one time I had seven different types of solar cookers and some duplicates in my back yard. Most were homemade. There were various parabolic and non-parabolic troughs, one five foot dish parabolic concentrator, and several four-reflector slant-face ovensone made from the Halacy plans. There was the beautiful octagonal Solar Chef designed by Sam Erwin. Almost daily, neighbors and friends would join me for potluck dinners using the solar cookers.
When I put together my first solar box cooker in March of 1976, I had simply heard that an Indian designer, Ghosh, had made a solar box that cooked, but I had not been able to obtain plans or illustrations of it. Unaware that it "should" be made of metal or wood, I used cardboard boxes and thus opened a new line of SBC development. Had I been more knowledgeable, I would not have been so surprised that it cooked very well, if somewhat slowly, at its initial temperature of 240 F (115.5 C). With improvement in the thermal dynamics of the box, 300 F (149 C) was reached, a more than adequate temperature for boiling, roasting, baking, and gentle frying...surely a solar kitchen range.
During June and July of that year, Sherry Cole, my good friend and neighbor, and I faced a definitive test for solar box cooking. We had a large social action group in our homes. In addition to office and sleeping space, we offered to provide meals for the volunteers, planning to use the backyard solar equipment as much as possible.
Meeting the daily food needs of 35 to 40 hungry adults presented a perfect opportunity to compare the practicality of the various solar cookers. It provided fine tests of comparative function under stress. Our choice of cooking apparatus gradually shifted away from the multiple reflector and parabolic cookers to solar box cookers. While we initially had been aware of some of the special qualities of solar box cooking, it was through the routine serving of large quantities of food that the major strengths of the solar box technology emerged. They reliably cooked large quantities of food but required minimal attention. With a hectic schedule, it was not possible to give focusing cookers the attention they required. When attention lapsed, the focusing collectors would go out of focus and the food would not be done when needed. In addition, little gusts of summer wind would close or topple the multiple reflector cookersagain resulting in partially cooked food. But if food was placed in a solar box cooker early in the day, we were assured cooked food at mealtime.
Our parabolic and multiple reflector cookers came to be used only for foods requiring shorter cooking or warming periods, preferably while someone was close at hand to tend them. They ended up being used mainly for optional dishes, while solar boxes became the workhorses for cooking the main dishes. An additional solar box cooker or two would have done as well or better at meeting our needs than my yard full of the more intricately designed cookers. When using solar box cookers, once the food was in I could give full attention to other chores. In addition, on the few semi-cloudy days, food in the SBCs cooked much better than food in the cookers that depended more heavily on reflectors.
Although solar boxes have been used for home heating, water heating, and distilling, the box design has not yet been widely used for cooking. Perhaps this is because solar boxes are so unassuming; it is hard to jazz up a large, simple box to appeal well in advertising. It needs to be seen in action to be believed. But solar box cookers have clearly demonstrated their effectiveness when it comes to meeting food service needs whether it be for individuals or groups, households, schools, businesses, or other organizations.
Sherry Cole identified the widespread value of such a device. We joined forces to tell as many people as possible about solar box cookers. As the effort began to attract media attention, we had a string of visitors, including several from the engineering department of the nearby university. Earnestly and with all good intent, I was advised to drop the solar box as it was an inherently inefficient design. One good-hearted engineer sat next to a solar box that was quietly and cheerfully cooking a large pot of beans and told me that "solar boxes just wont cook," and proved his point by referencing a scale in a technical book he had brought along!
This experience made it clear just how different our design goals are from engineering approaches. Engineering approaches and available literature often emphasize maximum solar collection at the expense of simplicity, functionality, appropriate materials and ease of use. Such designs do not lend themselves to being used as routine home appliances, nor can they be built without special tools and skills. Our design goals emphasized simplicity in design and construction easy for nonprofessional builders, the use of appropriate and available materials, ease of operation, and dependability under a wide variety of conditions. Our cardboard designs assumed the use of recycled materials and minimal additional costs.
After it became known that Sherry and I had experience with inexpensive solar box cookers, we were approached by two elementary school teachers. They wanted us to produce a lightweight teaching model made of cardboard that could be taken apart and reassembled repeatedly by third grade students in a special gifted program. They wanted a teaching device and a good cooking unit combined. This work led to the development of the patented Kerr-Cole Solar Box EcoCooker and the production of kits and complete stoves. Although designed for maximum simplicity, the EcoCooker design proved to be a useful teaching tool for all age and educational levels. We received both national and state energy innovation awards on this work.
While we did make wooden models, and still sell plans for a wooden design, the cardboard designs have been most popular. To allow viewers to see the construction details, the teaching model boxes can be completely disassembled. They can then be reassembled in a few minutes to start cooking.
In 1978 Dr. Robert Metcalf, an early SBC user, identified the SBC as a potentially powerful tool for public health efforts to reduce microbiological illness, and as a component for many environmental and social efforts from nutrition projects to tree planting efforts and more. With the full support of his Department Head, he has used his degree in microbiology and his position as Professor of Biological Sciences at California State University Sacramento to lay the scientific base for major expansion of SBC usage. Studies done with his students established the safety, microbiologically, of solar box cooking and the feasibility of water pasteurization by means of SBCs. With the safety of cooking and pasteurization scientifically established, Dr. Metcalf has spoken to thousands and has given hundreds of demonstrations to the academic and environmental community. He has spent private funds to travel to Washington, DC and elsewhere to speak to and demonstrate the solar box cooker for key people in government and private volunteer organizations. He and his wife have opened their home to travelers from all over the world coming to see the incredible cooking box.
Dr. Metcalf has donated hundreds of hours of his private time to give speeches and demonstrations. He interested Dr. Fred Barrett of the United States Department of Agriculture and together, with funds from US-AID, they prepared a video, "Four Square Feet of Sunshine," which introduces the concept of solar box cooking and its potential benefits. He also had a major role in preparation of the video, "A Bright Future." He recruited numerous friends, including Dr. William Sperber, from the Pillsbury Company, a company which provided funding for an SBC project in Bolivia as a part of an Applied Nutrition Program with the Freedom From Hunger Foundation. Together with an anthropologist, Dr. Aaron Zazueta, and local Aymarans, in March, 1987, they walked out beside potato fields on the altiplano of Bolivia and held the first international solar box cooker demonstration focused on technology transfer through the use of a functional cardboard model.
Dr. Metcalf also interested Leland Brenneman of PLAN International, formerly Foster Parents Plan, and worked closely with him as well as Dr. Sperber during a second Pillsbury-sponsored international project which was held in El Progreso, Guatemala in January, 1988.
Although the work by Sherry Cole and myself was progressing, it became clear that many more resources were needed to spread the knowledge and practice of solar box cooking. SOLAR BOX COOKERS INTERNATIONAL (SBCI) was formed in 1987 as a non-profit volunteer organization to respond to inquiries and provide central coordination of volunteer donations of time and money, develop educational materials, and promote knowledge of the technology and use of SBCs worldwide. Our goal came to be to make solar box cooking as widely known as cooking with fire. SBCI publishes a newsletter covering the broad aspects of what is happening in the SBC field. Their work is closely coordinated with SOLAR BOX COOKERS NORTHWEST (SBCN). Formed in 1989 in Seattle, SBCN publishes a fine quarterly newsletter specifically on solar box cooking, with reports on SBC activities around the globe. SBCN also coordinates an on-going international computer conference on EcoNet dealing with appropriate technology in general and SBCs in particular. Through these organizations, numerous volunteers with a broad spectrum of skills and professional qualifications have donated hundreds of hours of work. Through their efforts in providing workshops and literature, information on SBCs is now moving out to people all over the world.
The educational materials that SBCI has produced, which are available from their office, have greatly multiplied the effects of individual volunteers in the spread of knowledge about solar box cooking. But perhaps their most important contribution to date has been development of a training system and a workshop outline with materials to assist individuals in teaching others how to build and use SBCs to cook with the sun. These organizations deserve all possible support.
Information on other solar cooking efforts in many locations and with diverse designs has been gathered and published by the German Appropriate Technology Exchange. It appears at this time our effort is the one most heavily focused on technology transfer.
BASIC THEORY AND STRATEGIES FOR USAGE
In practice, all one needs to produce good solar cooked meals is a common sense understanding of a solar box cooker. Solar cooking a few familiar recipes soon makes using an SBC easy. Since it helps for solar box cooker designers and teachers to have a more detailed understanding of solar cooking, solar radiation, solar heat production, heat traps and heat transfer, these items will be covered at length in this chapter.
"Solar box cooker" is used in this book as a generic term which covers any of many designs of solar cooker characterized by a large, insulated, horizontal cooking chamber with a glazed window on the top to allow sunlight into the insulated box. Usually there is one reflector stabilized by an adjustable prop to reflect additional sunlight through the window. Customarily the reflector is part of the lid. Solar box cookers may be constructed of any serviceable, nontoxic materials. The inner box and glazing must also be heat resistant.
Three BASIC NATURAL LAWS are employed in making and using solar box cookers. One natural law is that when solar radiation (sunlight) strikes a dark surface it changes to infrared radiation (heat). A second natural law is that when light falls on light-colored or shiny surfaces it reflects and so can be directed to where it is needed. A final natural law is that solar radiation (sunlight) passes through a transparent window easily, but infrared radiation (heat) does not, so heat can be trapped. "Sunlight, the energy resource that powers photosynthesis and drives the earths weather, is the foundation for all life on earth. Energy resources such as coal, oil, and gas, formed from solar grown organic matter, are not renewable and will be consumed in a tiny fraction of the millions of years required for their formation. Although solar energy is a diffuse resource, its effective use has been documented since the time of the Greeks, the Romans, and the ancient cliff dwellers of the North American Southwest. As we deplete our non-renewable energy resources, we must continue to develop ways to use solar energy directly.
"Throughout history, humans have applied solar energy principles to provide for a variety of needs....As we approach the next millennium, the problems of world hunger, contaminated drinking water, deforestation, and the fuelwood crisis, are becoming more acute. The invention and use of simple, inexpensive, and low-tech solar box cookers, have resulted in the emergence of solar cooking as a solution to this variety of problems.
The basic purpose of a solar box cooker is to heat things upcook food, purify water, and sterilize instruments, to mention a few....
A solar box cooker cooks because the interior of the box is heated by the energy of the sun. Given this heat input, the temperature inside of a solar box cooker will continue to rise until the heat loss of the cooker is equal to the solar heat gain.
Given two boxes that have equal heat loss, the one that has more gain, from stronger sunlight or additional sunlight via a reflector, will be hotter inside.
Given two boxes that have equal heat gain, the one that has less heat lossbetter insulated walls, bottom and topwill reach a higher interior temperature.
The most efficient use of solar radiation by SBCs is determined by the location of heat production both directly and through the use of reflection and by the competence of the insulation retaining the heat thus produced. Both direct and reflected sunlight passing through the glazing onto a dark pot produce heat on the pot sides which flows directly into food since heat naturally seeks to equalize temperatures by moving from hotter areas into colder areas. Sunlight also falls on the reflective oven sides and the dark bottom of the oven. Reflective sides in an SBC throw additional light onto the dark pots in the center as well as adding to the sunlight on the dark drip tray.
A reflective bottom will reflect sunlight up the sides and back out through the glass without it ever becoming heat. For this reason the bottom of solar box cookers is customarily dark. Then even if there is no dark pot in the oven, heat from the dark tray rises to preheat the oven air. A totally reflective oven will not get very hot unless there is a dark object inside.
Cold air is excluded and the heat produced is trapped by insulation in the sides and bottom of the SBC as well as by the glazing and the close fitting lid. The hot oven air transfers additional heat to the pots. The temperature range an SBC will achieve is determined by a combination of all these factors, as well as by others discussed in Chapter 4.
Dont get overwhelmed with all these details which are provided to give background for trouble-shooters, educators, researchers and designers. Actual cooking consists of putting the food in a dark, lidded pot, pointing the SBC at the sun and giving it sufficient time to cook. That is all most people need to consider when using their SBC.
The MAXIMUM TEMPERATURES for empty SBCs focussed in full sunlight range from 220 F (104 C) to 300 F (149 C) and occasionally above. Temperatures always temporarily drop when the ovens are opened and particularly when cold food is put inside. They immediately begin to heat the food which keeps the temperatures naturally low until the food is hot. Cooking occurs at any point above 190 F (88 C); boiling temperature is 212 F (100 C) at sea level, lower at higher altitudes. Any SBC which reaches 250 F (121 C) or above is considered a good model. Ovens peaking below that level take longer to cook and do not brown food but may be very serviceable.
COOKING TIMES are effected by a number of other factors in addition to the caliber of SBC. An SBCs function varies with sun angles, sun conditions, location including latitude and altitude, weather and mass. Temperatures are a result of a combination of all these varying conditions so cooking times in written materials are always approximations.
SUN ANGLES are effected by daily changes and seasonal changes as well as differences in sun angles dependent on the latitude. During the early morning and late afternoon with their lower sun angles, foods clearly cook more slowly than during mid-day. When the shadows are long, cooking times will be longer and it will not be possible to finish hard to cook foods, or large quantities of food without special care. It is not necessary to wait for optimum sun angles to utilize an SBC. Preheating of food can be done by the low angles of the morning sunlight, while food that is already hot and cooking will continue to cook in late afternoon at low sun angles.
The most frequent special approach to SBC cooking with a low functioning SBC and/or low sun angles is to heat food briefly before putting it into the SBC for the remainder of cooking time.
Angles also change slowly as the daily arc of the sun swings higher or lower across the sky over the seasons, with best cooking capacity in summer and reduced cooking capacity in winter. With regard to seasonal changes in sun angles, we are revising our expectations as we hear from SBC users. Individuals can use SBCs for single servings when family quantities might be impossible. As winter comes on, the solar cook begins to feel when solar cooking of the foods and amounts needed can no longer be done.
Areas of 20 LATITUDE or less have year-round solar box cooking angles and proportionally less as one goes further from the equator. By about 30 latitude, there is a noticeable drop in sun angles in the winter but easy to cook dishes can be prepared any sunny day. At about 40 latitude, cooking is easily possible 7 to 8 months of the year in Sacramento (Sea level 38.5 N. Latitude). In Seattle (Sea level, 47.5 N. Latitude), they have found that reduced quantities of food can be cooked even in January. This is at a far higher latitude than our early experience led us to expect winter cooking. A 5 pound (2.25 kg) chicken was cooked in Seattle on November 2, 1989, which was a windless, sunny day. They were using a homemade SBC of the SBCI Eco-design with double oven cooking bag in double glazing. There is also a report of cooking a full meal in mid-February in Seattle. Neither of these cooks was using any special cooking methods.
Thus, for well over half the year, assuming solar cooking in the south latitudes is comparable, the area of potentially effective solar box cooking reaches from lower Canada in the northern hemisphere almost to the tip of the South American continent in the southern hemisphere. In brief, geographically this covers all of Afghanistan, all of the African continent, all of the Arabian peninsula, all of Australia, all of Central and South America except the very most southern parts of Chili and Argentina, most of China, southern portions of France and Italy, all of the India peninsula, the Hawaiian Islands, all of Japan, Indonesia, Mexico, most of the Middle Eastern countries north to the level of Bucharest, parts of New Zealand, Pakistan, the Philippines, southern portions of the Soviet Union, all of Spain, Sri Lanka, and Thailand, as well as all of the United States. This list is only representative of the areas of the globe for reference by people from various locations and does not represent all the territory where SBCs could be used. Also, this list does not consider local factors such as persistent cloud cover, severe air pollution, etc., which will eliminate some areas.
ALTITUDE, as opposed to latitude, has little effect except perhaps to provide somewhat better sun conditions as the atmosphere and pollution thins at higher altitudes. Yet, because water boils at lower temperatures, cooking some foods may be slower at higher altitudes. It has been reported that these factors seem to balance each other out and solar cooking proceeds at high altitudes much like anywhere else. Solar box cooking definitely has been accomplished at 12,000 altitude, 15 latitude in March. On the Bolivian altiplano, rice was reported to cook more rapidly than it would in Sacramento with the same sun angle. Their small potatoes as well as their fish were delicious.
SUN CONDITIONS also effect cooking time. Bright, clear sunlight is obviously the most powerful. With the solar box design, cooking can continue but more slowly when there is some reduction in sunlight due to cloud cover or overcast conditions, high humidity, and air pollution including smog and dust. Sometimes cooking can be improved by simply moving the SBC away from the side of a road, to where it is sheltered from traffic pollution by a building or a tree. During harmattan, cooking was successful in Sierra Leone in January.
MARGINAL WEATHER is not a great problem. A full sunny day is not required for cooking in a solar box oven, in contrast to primarily reflective solar cookers. Sunlight must be strong enough for a fairly distinct shadow. SBCs use indirect as well as direct radiation and so can cook, although more slowly, under somewhat overcast conditions. Likewise, when there are intermittent clouds, but with full sunlight for roughly 30% or more of the time, cooking will proceed in a solar box, although more slowly. This wide range of radiation used by solar box cookers is one reason the designs are particularly suitable for serious solar cooking. They can be depended on to produce cooked food for a large portion of the year in most of the worlds temperate and tropical zones. On a completely cloudy day or one with less than 30% sunshine, traditional methods can be used.
On a semi-cloudy day, easy to cook foods may be chosen or food may cut into small pieces, or divided into several pots. If necessary, foods can be started with hot water, or even brought to a boil before placing in the SBC. If miscalculation or changing conditions leave the food not quite done, a little conventional fuel can finish cooking the meal.
MONSOON solar cooking may be possible simply by identifying the bright hours and adapting to the length of cooking time available. For instance, during the monsoon season in Arizona, there are usually about two hours of bright early morning sun before clouds close in. Easy to cook foods started early can be well begun or often completely cooked in this limited sunny time. Moderately hard or hard to cook foods may brought to a boil by other fuels before being placed in the SBC. Or just as the clouds arrive, pots which are fully heated and cooking in an SBC can be converted to retained heat techniques by packing insulated cushions around the pots inside the cooker. See the Retained Heat section in this Chapter.
When it is WINDY AND COLD but sunny, SBC cooking is slowed somewhat by chilling as wind moves across the glazing. On a bright, very cold, still day, one need only allow extra time for cooking. When it is cold AND windy, a second layer of glass or other glazing ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 12 mm) above the first glazing is essential. It creates a layer of still hot air to insulate the window. Sometimes an SBC lid and prop must be tied on, or the whole oven braced with rocks to withstand gusting winds and yet it will still cook. Water condensed on the inside of an SBC window may simply be wiped off periodically with a soft cloth. Condensation on the window is more often due to cooking without a tight lid than to weather conditions. Thin glazings that flutter in the wind are less effective than rigid glazing, either glass or plastic. For more about windows and glazings, see the glazing section in Chapter 4.
The MASS within the oven insulationwalls, tray, pots, and foodall make a difference in cooking time. The well-insulated oven, lined with foil-covered cardboard, having a light metal, dark colored tray has very little mass as compared to a wooden or metal oven lined with sheet metal or having a heavy metal tray. Both will heat, but the thick sheet metal will require longer to heat initially and will cool correspondingly more slowly when sunshine is reduced. The same considerations apply to pots. Thin-sided, darkened stainless steel or graniteware pots start to cook quicker than heavier ceramic, tinted or painted glass, earthenware or cast iron containers. However, due to heat stored in the thermal mass, once the food is cooking in the heavier cast iron and ceramic pots, it will continue to cook through intermittent clouds better than thinner pots. Once the mass is hot, all pots cook similar foods in about the same time.
These construction and equipment details cause some of the variations in the cooking ability of various stoves. They also make it clear why under most circumstances adobe, brick or ceramic walls do not make a good interior siding for solar box cookers...too much heat goes into the walls of the stove rather than into food.
In addition to the mass of the oven and the pots, another important consideration is how much food mass is being cooked and the shape of the mass. Large mass, say 10 pounds (4.5 kg), in one pot will cook more slowly than the same mass divided into two or three pots. Whole potatoes or meat in a large solid piece cook more slowly than the same foods cut into smaller pieces. For cooking regularly under good solar conditions, it does not matter much how heavy the pot or how the mass is distributedheavier and thicker simply takes more time. But if cooking conditions are marginal, a thin pot with food cut into small pieces may cook when more massive configurations do not. Although aluminum pots transfer heat quickly and are available around the world, I hesitate to recommend them because as yet scientific studies have not been done to establish if significant amounts of aluminum compounds enter the food when cooking for the lengths of time required by SBCs.
Extra mass is sometimes temporarily added to an oven to store heat for a rapid start, as when cooking breads. Additional mass also provides stabilizing heat during days with variable clouds and stores additional heat for holding foods after sundown. Bottles of water may appear to be a better choice than rocks, adobe bricks, railroad spikes or cast iron pans for heat storage because water can store the most BTUs. However, the maximum temperature unpressured water can reach is the boiling point, 212 F (100 C) at sea level. Although it takes about 5 pounds (2.25 kg) of bricks to equal the heat storage capacity of 1 pound (0.45 kg) of water, bricks can store heat up to the maximum temperature of the SBC. This provides a higher temperature and greater quantity of stored heat which is available for breads or other foods when they are first placed in the SBC.
The strategy of using mass should be varied depending on the needs in a given situation. If there is ample sun and ample time, putting food and extra mass in all at once is a labor saving combination of steps. However, heat forming in the oven will go equally into all available mass. If food is put in alone first, all available heat will flow into it, which starts the food cooking more quickly. Mass added after food is up to temperature utilizes excess heat not going into the food and so does not delay cooking.
RETAINED HEAT cooking goes hand in hand with solar box cooking. In traditional retained heat cooking, a fairly large amount of food in a pot with a tight lid is brought to a boil and simmered for 5 to 30 minutes depending on the type of food being cooked. (See "Simmering Times," page 13). After simmering, the food is quickly moved to a well insulated box and packed with light, clean pillows of insulation. Care is taken not to disturb the lid so steam does not escape. Cooking levels of heat will be retained for up to four hours. In two to three times the usual stove time, food is cooked by the retained heat. This technique works well with 3 pints (1.4 liters) or more of food mass, but small recipes may not retain heat for sufficiently long periods to complete cooking and may have to be reheated after an hour or so.
When combining retained heat and solar cooking, if food has gotten thoroughly hot in an SBC, but clouds arrive before the food is finished cooking, a switch from solar to retained heat cooking should be made before the oven temperature drops below the boiling point. For large recipes this may be accomplished by simply closing the reflective lid on the pots of cooking foods. For smaller recipes, the solar oven is opened,taking care not to allow steam to escape from under the lids, pots are pushed close together along with any heated additional mass. Insulating pads or soft cushions are tucked closely around the pots and well heated mass. The SBC lid is then closed. This effectively makes the transition from solar to retained heat cooking for small quantities. The cooker lid remains closed until shortly before serving time, when the food is tested. If not completely done, a very little conventional fuel will usually finish the job. As a caution, if the mass is not well heated to the core, it may absorb some of the heat from the food and so quickly lower the overall temperature and delay cooking.
Usually solar/retained heat cooking is done right where the SBC is located. However, a lightweight portable SBC can be moved temporarily indoors for its retained heat cooking time if the sun clouds over or if it rains. It may also be brought inside more or less permanently during the off season or at night and function as an insulated box for retained heat cooking. Used in this way the SBC continues to save fuel rather than simply being stored until conditions are right for solar cooking.
Some of the ADVANTAGES OF RETAINED HEAT cooking over conventional cooking are that it uses reduced amounts of fuel, reduces the amount of attention directed toward cooking, and food can be prepared any time, day or night under any weather conditions. This procedure is well worth exploring in different areas of the globe and works very well in conjunction with solar cooking.
FOOD SAFETY with regard to retained heat cooking has been studied by Dr Kirschner. She states, "Cooking with retained heat in a fireless cooker means that the food cooks while the temperature drops very slowly. I have checked innumerable times, using many different amounts and types of foods and sizes of pots, and found that for up to 4 hoursand often much longerfood stays steaming hot in the cooker, and the temperature is at or above 145 F (63 C) .... Should you want to leave the food in the cooker for longer periods ...bring it back to the boiling point and simmer it for 5 minutes to be absolutely sure it wont spoil."
Food safety for food cooked by any method requires meeting specific rigid conditions. Cooked food at temperatures between 125 F (52 C) and 50 F (10 C) can grow harmful bacteria. This temperature range is known as the danger zone. To protect against food poisoning, microbiologists and home economists strongly recommend that food be kept either above or below these temperatures. These precautions are the same whether food is cooked with gas, electricity, microwaves, wood fire, or solar heat as well as foods cooked by retained heat, crock pot, barbecue pit or any other method. In cooked food held at room temperature, there is a chance of Bacillus cereus food poisoning, a major intestinal illness. Worse, if the food is not thoroughly reheated before consumption, there is a chance of deadly botulism poisoning or salmonella. Even if it is reheated, when cooked food has been in the danger zone for three to four hours, there remains a risk of food poisoning3 in solar cooked food as in food cooked by any other method.
It has been carefully documented with regard to solar box cookers that it is safe to place raw refrigerated or frozen food, even chicken or other meat, in an SBC in the morning several hours before the sun begins to cook it. Refrigerated food placed in an SBC remains sufficiently cold until the sun starts to heat the SBC. Once the full sun is on the oven, the heating of food proceeds quickly enough so that there is no danger of food poisoning.2 Uncooked grains, beans and other dried raw foods can also be placed in an SBC in advance. Both of these methods facilitate absentee cooking.
There are three main points at which caution is required: it is dangerous to keep cooked food more than three or four hours in an unheated or cooling SBC unless both the SBC and food have been cooled rather quickly to below 50 F (10 C) in which case the SBC is serving as a cool box; it is dangerous to let cooked food remain overnight in an SBC unless it is likewise cooled; and it is dangerous for food to partially cook and then remain warm in the SBC when temperatures are not sustained as might occur on a poor solar cooking day, at the end of the day or when clouds move in. Cooked or partially cooked food should either be cooled to below 50 F (10 C) or cooking should be finished with an alternate fuel. If food has remained in the temperature danger zone for 3 to 4 hours it should be considered spoiled and should be discarded. Reheating the food does not correct the problem as heat does not inactivate all toxins.
Food does not have to be visibly spoiled in order to be toxic and cause illness evidenced by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Even if food has not been at the incubating temperatures of the danger zone for the full 3 to 4 hours, absolutely discard food that is bubbling, foaming, has a bad smell, is becoming discolored, or gives any other indication of spoilage. Discard it out of reach of animals and children and thoroughly wash the pot. Discard it without tasting it as even small amounts can make an adult very sick.
If temperatures below 50 F (10 C) cannot be obtained, it is still valuable to drop food temperatures as low as possible and as quickly as possible rather than allowing food to remain warm since bacteria grow more slowly at lower temperatures.
An alternative method of holding cooked food is to reliably maintain the temperature of the entire food mass above 125 F (53 C). This can be achieved by first heating the food to boiling, simmering for a few minutes to allow heat to penetrate to the center of each particle and for a pocket of steam to collect under the lid. Then proceed as for retained heat cooking. This provides the level of temperature needed throughout the food, whereas leaving a pot of food on a very small flame may allow food at the edges to remain in the danger zone. Where neither of these methods can be used, it is best to cook amounts of food that will be consumed in one meal relatively soon after being cooked.
ADVANTAGES OF SOLAR BOX COOKING over both conventional cooking methods and retained heat cooking are that it uses only sunlight most days. SBCs can cook large or small amounts of mass. A wider range of pots can be used in an SBC, since an absolutely tight lid is not required, although recommended. And SBCs can produce delicious boiled, simmered, baked, or roasted and lightly browned food with a more varied texture.
FUEL SAVINGS with either solar cooking or retained heat cooking as well as with the solar/retained heat combination can be significant. In India, families using SBCs regularly reduce use of conventional fuels or firewood by about half. In Arizona the fuel saving is more than that. It has not been formally calculated for many places but families using solar box cookers as their major stoves become adept at using what sunlight is available to reduce their use of other conventional fuels such as firewood, gas or charcoal to a minimum.
SBCs have been well received in a great many areas. The solar box cooked food often duplicates or at least closely approaches the traditional flavors, but some regional foods may take careful trials to match customary textures and flavors. Acceptance of SBCs sometimes depends on discovering the best solar box cooking method for favorite local foods. A very small group, or even one individual, can pioneer solar cooking in an area. This can be a social pleasure as well as test a lot of recipes.
In addition to cooking traditional foods, the SBC offers opportunities for cooking foods in different ways in more versatility, so that new recipes may be used. Such recipes may or may not be traditional, but certainly can be very good. Baking breads, cakes and cookies can be a particular delight where baking is not customarily possible. Experimenting can be fun. Most Americans enjoy Chinese, Japanese, Mexican, Middle Eastern and other different foods as well as any of the foods encountered while they grew up. The popularity being experienced by American fast food chains as they expand into other countries highlights the ability of traditionally habituated palates to accept new tastes.
Flavoring is a delicate process. Some of the differences in taste can come from cooking methods. Browning onions, garlic and other spices prior to adding the remainder of the ingredients induces a different flavor, subtle but important in some stews and casseroles. Rice and other grains must have the familiar texture as well as the right flavoring to satisfythat is, to taste "right." Since people in each locality can taste the subtle differences in their foods, local pioneer solar cooks are in the best position to test different methods. Experimental cooking can be done, using any of at least seven different approaches and the results compared for the best flavor.
If certain traditional foods cannot be duplicated, reserve those recipes for cloudy days when former cooking methods must be used.
Anyone developing a special cooking method for a challenging local food, please write to Solar Cookers International to share your recipes with others
PATTERNS OF USAGE
Integration of SBCs into the lifestyles of individuals takes many forms. None of the uses are mutually exclusive and, in fact, most people enjoy the flexibility they present.
Briefly listed, here are some of patterns we see:
Such vignettes only hint at the variety of uses made of SBCs. The final example, The Sustainable Emergency Kitchen, will be covered in more detail since it can be worked in a number of different ways and can serve as a pattern for recreational or vacation cooking, or it can meet serious emergency needs on a long term basis. Savory food can be created from either fresh or stored food supplies for months or years while requiring a very minimum of fuel by using an SBC in combination with retained heat cooking augmented by small wood fires and with flint and steel on dry cotton fluff or some other method for quickly starting flames.
Equipment for an emergency must be as simple and labor-saving as possible, sparing energy and time for other critical activities. An emergency kitchen must be versatile and adequate to function one way or another any day or at night if needed. Rain, blizzard, wind, or any emergency must not interrupt the flow of nutritious cooked food for a family.
Many people plan to cook on a wood fire in an emergency. Yet there are problems with this. Many traditional cooking fires take large quantities of woodan unrealistic demand at this time in history. As stores are depleted, wood may need to be gathered locally and carried home. Manual gathering and transportation of cooking fuel is strenuous work, exhausting and time-consuming. Utilizing mechanized methods of firewood gathering requires gasoline, lubricants and replacements to keep a truck and chainsaw functioning. All of these are products of a smoothly functioning industrialized economy and may not be available in certain areas or even globally during a longstanding emergency. Even with the help of a pack animal, moving fuelwood is heavy, bulky work. With exhaustion of the supply, fuel gathering must be done at greater and greater distances, and at increasing expense of time and human energy.
Furthermore, the numbers of people in our present populations can denude an area very quickly, leaving the earth stripped of the protection of trees and shrubs. Widening circles of devastation are growing today around many population centers where wood and charcoal are heavily used for cooking. It will take generations for the land to recover from such overuse if it is ever possible under the changing circumstances.
It is essential to plan to protect our remaining fuelwood trees by holding fuelwood cutting and gathering below the level of natural replacement so that our natural tree cover can grow back and the land return to a healthy condition. It also makes good sense to plant especially fast-growing fuelwood trees around the home in advance of any actual need since they take several years to grow. Mature fuelwood trees and orchard trimmings, if used sparingly, can do a wonderful amount of cooking, particularly if the wood is burned in one of the many varieties of improved woodstoves.
Solar energy is a non-consumptive and non-polluting fuel which is delivered freely and even in excessive amounts in the areas where most people live. The solar box cooker can be the heart of a sustainable emergency kitchen. The SBC would be supplemented at night or on cloudy days with retained heat and small wood fires. In addition, the Sustainable Emergency Kitchen may include a variety of solar water heaters, a solar water and milk pasteurizer, and/or a solar food dryer. There might also be an organic food-producing garden and food producing solar greenhouse.
Small wood fires differ from regular campfires and from most traditional wood stoves in that a minimum of wood is utilized. Gathered wood is often ½ inch to 1 ½ inches (1.25 to 3.75 cm) in diameter...a common branch size and a common size for kindling. In a good stove, four or five small sticks at a time are sufficient. The flame is concentrated in one spot directly underneath the pot. Pans are placed directly over the flame which carries more heat than embers and is available immediately. A variety of fuels can be usedbranches and twigs, pine cones, scrap lumber, twists of papers, strips of cardboard, dry corn cobs, dungall in the same type small wood stove.
In recent years a great deal of effort has gone into designing efficient small wood stoves and there are many different designs. There are also some efficient home made designs that have been used over generations.
When using a single pot fire for multiple dishes, work through the menu, cooking the food that will take longest first, bringing to a boil and then simmered according to the schedule prepared by Dr. Kirschner. As each pot is removed from the fire, it is wrapped in a soot cloth, sack or paper bag before placing it in the retained heat cooker. When all foods are sufficiently heated and packed away, smother the fire to conserve the unburned ends for next time.
A new flame can be made almost as quickly as with a match by striking a spark onto a small fluff of very dry loose cotton or other very good, dry tinder. The initial flame can be used to ignite a roll of paper or very thin piece of wood to use as a taper.
Learning to cook using sustainable emergency kitchen equipment and techniques is not really very complicated. Practice helps make this a simple process. The value of SBCs as emergency cookstoves and as retained heat boxes does not detract from their use for recreational cooking, for fire safety, for keeping the home cool in the summer time, for reducing utility costs, etc. All these and more are legitimate reasons to incorporate SBCs into a homemaking routine. Using solar box cookers for fun or convenience when there is no emergency can organize the necessary equipment and can produce a very useful skill. Having an SBC in regular use makes it easy to cook through times of emergency with a minimum of disruption.
INDIVIDUAL DESIGN ELEMENTS
This chapter on Design Elements will detail as fully as possible our experience to date. It gives an informed base on which additional information can accumulate as the expanding field of solar box cookers continues to grow.
The Kerr-Cole EcoCooker cardboard design, patented in 1980, for years has been a standard. Assembled it measures 29" x 25" x 11" (72.5 x 62.5 x 27.5 cm). With 3 inches (7.5 cm) of foil and crushed newspaper insulation, it is fitted with one piece of single strength window glass 24" x 20" (60 x 50 cm). The base is built with two open-topped boxes, insulated, then covered with "toppers" that stretch over the outside, across the top and down the inside of the assembly. This makes a very substantial cardboard SBC which still remains a peak performing model. In the Temperate Zone it reaches temperatures between 275 to 300 F (135 to 149 C) and performs even better in equatorial locations. This design has been widely popularized by SBCI through excellent educational materials, home building plans, and workshops. (See plans in Chapter 9, Part A).
In 1990, Mr. Joe On of Sacramento suggested a design requiring less materials. The JoeOn design is simplicity itself: after tracing the outline of a smaller box onto the closed top of a larger box, one simply cuts out the traced hole and inserts the former into the latter. (See plans in Chapter 9, Part D). The dimensions vary depending on boxes available, but often they are much smaller than the Eco. Generally the wall thickness is reduced to 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) and plastic glazing is used making a smaller, lighter model. Maximum temperatures range from 220 F to 275 F (104 to 135 C) and occasionally above. While the design does not have the years of service behind it and is considerably less substantial than the EcoCooker, it is quicker to build, preheats rapidly and given adequate time, normally cook very well. There are a number of designs developed following this general pattern and very satisfactory SBCs are produced.
A third line of designing involves two strips of panels and formulas for adapting to a wide range of dimensions. (See plans in Chapter 9, Part B). This relatively new development is included here since it conceptually may serve to stimulate thought toward many different models: homecrafted from scraps glued together or panels of different materials as well as possibly being adaptable for mass production particularly to meet emergency needs. The dimensions can be set to the size of glazing available, or to the customary pot height for an area, or to a predetermined width of cardboard or other material. Given a particularly good available outer box, the strip pattern can be used to build a fitted inner box. The designs of the lids are similar for all three SBCs except for the variety in props.
These three lines of designing do not exhaust the field. Many efforts have been made toward designing a collapsible model and one, which performs very well, is ready for general marketing. Another design, a cylindrical form, is also in production. Neither of these lends itself to handcrafting.
Designers should use these illustrations only as background information and freely combine solar box components using whatever materials are available in a way that meets the needs of their own people.
The SIZE is important. For serious solar cooking for a family or group, SBCs need about 3 square feet (0.27 square meters) of window glazing to function adequately, cooking a maximum of about 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of food on good sunny days. Four square feet (0.36 sq. m.) is preferable for a really good, multiple-purpose solar box cooker as it will cook about 12 pounds (5.4 kg) of food. Large cookers will continue to cook although lesser amounts on semi-overcast days.
Smaller SBCs having smaller glazed areas collect less solar radiation, have limited pan size and often lower maximum temperatures. They can not heat as much mass as larger SBCs. While they may cook amounts suitable for one or two people, they usually can not handle sufficient food for a family or small group, unless several small SBCs are utilized. Small ones have generally been more of a recreational oven rather than a major appliance for food service. They have their place in the family of solar box cookers perhaps for easy transportability, for demonstrations, for school projects or in cooking for a single person but just dont expect a pony to do the work of a horse. Small versions clearly have wide potential for use by isolated individuals, the homeless, or transients who cannot deal with the bulkier standard size and have no need for the quantities of cooked food they can produce.
For special times, SBCs of any size can be gathered into one location to produce food for a crowd. Sixty to 80 people on many occasions have been served from SBCs gathered in Dr. Metcalfs backyard in Sacramento for his gala, delicious "Solarques."
Collapsible models of SBCs being designed are opening an entirely new field of development as they combine larger cooking capacities with smaller storage needs and much easier transporting.
The DEPTH is determined by the height of the tallest container to be used, plus 1 inch (2.5 cm). Broad, shallow ovens take less material and heat more quickly. They have a higher solar gain collector area to heat loss surface area ratio. With greater heat gain per heat loss, the effective heat will be greater and temperatures will be higher as well.
For maximum cooking area, the sides are perpendicular. Slanted interior walls provide slightly higher temperatures in the center but restrict the area on which pots may stand sometimes making the use of cookie trays, large roasters, or more than one pot impossible. Slanted sides are also much more difficult to build than perpendicular ones..
The SHAPE of an SBC can be rectangular, square, round or oval. Rectangular and oval SBCs have a broad side facing the sun for maximum collection of sunlight as the sun passes overhead. This makes the best use of reflected light, as well as direct sun, and reduces the need for changing focus. Square SBCs are efficient ovens and have the added advantage that pieces for all sides are similar. Rectangular ones seem to pack and transport easier than square, particularly as they can be picked up easier by small-framed people.
Round and oval SBCs are intriguing and skilled craftworkers have produced them. So far no written plans for an effective homecrafted version have been seen. One of the problems is securing a reflector to the curve of the oven without losing too much sunlight on the top surface. There are also problems making a round frame and perhaps obtaining round pieces of glass for the glazing. Round and oval forms without reflectors could be a good choice near the equator where reflected light is less essential.
Corrugated CARDBOARD is widely available in some parts of the world for recycling. It makes a fairly durable, biodegradable unit. If new, it is often inexpensive, especially in urban areas. Cardboard is rigid, lightweight, and has good insulation qualities. It cuts easily, glues easily and yet has sufficient structural integrity for the purpose. Like heavy cloth, leather, and some basket-making fibers, it will form its own hinges without hardware. It is not expected that all homemade SBCs will be made of cardboard, only that it meets the needs of the SBCs in which it is used. Pressed paper board has also been used but is more difficult to work.
The exterior siding is often different from the interior. Wood exterior and cardboard interior makes a very functional combination. Wood is biodegradable, yet weather resistant and durable. Wood/cardboard combination SBCs have been cooking since 1978 with minimal upkeep. Completely cardboard ones have been cooking for eight seasons so far with one cardboard SBC still cooking after eleven years! These have, of course, been protected from rain. Often these units were untreated, but some had a commercial white kaolin coating. Water-resistance of cardboard is increased by coating the SBC with oil, fat, or petroleum jelly and placing it in the sun until the coating penetrates. Other exterior weather resistant coverings are contact paper and house paint.
The most appropriate SIDING will depend on the materials and skills in an area and are based on availability and/or cultural norm. The complete range of siding materials has not been established and is an important area for local investigations. It is crucial that the material for the inner box not give off toxic fumes or strong odors either cool or at cooking temperatures. The exterior of an SBC may be made from any paneling available.
For good stewardship of Earth resources, biodegradable sidings such as cardboard, wood, natural fibers, earth and adobe are encouraged.
Cardboard ovens appeal to many, particularly environmentalists. Ultimately they are almost completely biodegradable. When the design is homemade, cardboard, often recycled from bins behind hardware and grocery stores, can be transformed into a major home appliancethe cook stove. If cardboard is not available, many other lightweight materials may be substituted. And free fuel, the sunshine, is available most of the year for most of the people on the planet.
Adobe, dung or mud/dung mixtures that have been formed into thick slabs or bricks are suitable for exterior sidings. Dung is needed primarily for returning to earth as fertilizer; however, if it is being gathered and burned, its use to make SBC sidings to reduce the loss from continued burning seems justified. Other vegetable fibers mixed with a nontoxic adhesive, could be pressed into a forming mold to make slabs. When earth or adobe are used in a siding, it is important to insulate the inner box from the earth mass otherwise the heavy earth will act as a heat sink keeping the oven below cooking temperatures. There are reports from Zimbabwe of people placing a boiling pot in an uninsulated adobe box, covering it with a glass and thus continuing to cook by solar energy for the remainder of the time needed. Zimbabwe extends from approximately 22 to 15.5 South Latitude...a Sunbelt land. We do not have any reports of placing cold, raw food in uninsulated adobe and successfully solar cooking it.
Thick quilts or cloth pillows may be shaped into the oven form, allowing a large part of the SBC to be spun and woven. Filled with carded wool, cotton or other fiber and sewn together, care must be taken that there are no heat leaks at the seams, perhaps by overlapping to eliminate cracks or thin areas. It might be necessary in Equatorial locations to shade the outer cloth in some way to prevent deterioration by ultra-violet light.
Woven cloth dipped in oil or grease was historically called oiled-cloth and used for rainwear (known as "slickers") and for containers to store perishable materials on shipboard. Similar oiled cloth could be used for exterior sidings of SBCs. Dried animal skins have made containers for many people over the years and probably could be adapted to solar box cookers. When such materials are used, stitching the shape together and sealing the punctures with natural resin might work better than gluing.
Basketry outer forms work where skill and materials to produce them are available. A paper mash siding could be made of recycled fibers as for egg cartons. Some egg cartons are vacuum-formed from large vats of paper fibers. This process might be adapted to production of SBCs locally.
The pit solar oven simply utilizes a hole dug in the earth as exterior siding, along with good insulation, such as pine needles or hay, and a reflective inner box. The lid and glazing may be standard, although in equatorial areas, the reflector may not be needed.
INSULATION in SBCs with the inner box/outer box construction is usually accomplished by lining the space between boxes with foil. Foil insulation may have patches but the foil should make a complete cover. Wrinkles are no problem if pressed flat. Air bubbles behind the foil make it easier to tear but work alright for insulation. Priorities on the use of limited amounts of foil are as follows: 1) cover the inner oven space including the inner top of the lid around the glazing and the reflector if one is essential, 2) the inside of the outer box and 3) the oven side of baffles. Foil alone is sufficient in many SBCs.
For additional insulation, lightly pack the foiled space with any light-weight, clean-smelling, non-toxic substance. Such bulk insulation is packed loosely as it insulates best if quite airy. Yet it is packed sufficiently tight so that it will not settle over time, leaving an empty, uninsulated space at the top. Also, with loose packing the sides of the oven are not forced out. A baffle, foiled or not, helps insulate, in part by preventing settling and in part by blocking the convective flow of air. Baffles, which are sheets of cardboard or other material used to partition the insulation space within each wall, are secured approximately in the middle of the space held in place by insulating filler on both sides. A slanted baffle adds to the structural strength but is not significantly better for insulation than a perpendicular one according to work done by Dr. Ed Pejack.
The Pejack study ranks bulk insulation materials from poor to best as crumpled styrofoam cups, crumpled newspapers, straw, wool, rice hulls, and feathers. Field tests on this ranking are not complete, however, styrofoam in any form is not recommended because it is fabricated with chlorofluorocarbons which destroy atmospheric ozone. The newer gases substituted in making styrofoam are untested for use around food and should be avoided unless it is firmly established they are safe around food at SBC oven temperatures. When styrofoam was used prior to understanding its role in atmospheric ozone depletion, it was considered unreliable as an insulator as it sometimes melted within the SBC wall resulting in a poorly functioning oven. Where styrofoam was successful, the inner oven wall was relatively thick and sturdy so reduced amounts of heat penetrated as far as the insulation.
Crumpled newspaper has insulated hundreds of successful SBCs and is the preferred insulation in many areas. Field work with feathers is limited but seems promising. Loosely carded wool was outstanding in two field uses. Those tests were run with sheep wool, but the texture of some dog wool is indistinguishable. Probably any animal wool would insulate well. Shredded paper, hay and pine needles also have been satisfactory.
Pressed fiberglass insulation serves well. Loose fiberglass batts also insulate well but both present health hazards. Fibers are released while the material is being worked and penetrate the eyes, lungs and perhaps are swallowed. Foam insulation is made with toxic gases which continue to off gas for long periods. For these reasons both fiberglass insulation and foam insulation are not recommended.
Where foil and insulating fill are not available, multiple layers of cardboard either with or without spaces between the layers have produced useful solar ovens. If there are spaces between the layers of cardboard, they may be simply left as insulating air cavities or may be filled with crumpled newspaper or other material insulation. Unless using foil, baffles and lots of air space, a large quantity of insulation is usually needed and can make an SBC very heavy.
To test the effectiveness of oven insulation, heat the oven in the sun until it is quite hot. Then place a hand underneath and on the side beneath the reflector. Shadowed areas do not feel warm in a well insulated oven. If insulation is inadequate, has melted, or has shifted, this can be felt through the exterior wall. If there is question about a side or front area, place something to keep that area in the shade until the test.
INNER OVEN LININGS of foil are our primary choice for the following reasons: it reflects a good proportion of the sunlight onto the pots and it provides reflective insulation around the inner oven holding in the heat.
Some experience indicates dark sides for inner ovens may function as well as shiny sides under semi-overcast conditions but in most areas, reflective sides work best.
Sheet metal oven linings are quite durable and have more mass so make heavier SBCs that are somewhat slower to heat initially. They retain more heat than foil to continue cooking longer through intermittent clouds and at the end of the day than ovens with lighter weight linings. However, if sheet metal extends from the inside to outside the glazing, it will function as a radiator, draining heat from the oven. A thermal break is needed. One useful configuration brings the sheet metal about ½ inch (1.2 cm) over the upper edge of the oven where it may be nailed or otherwise secured (Page 26, Fig. 4). The glazing frame then completely covers this inner metal edge. Also, a metal oven lining should not touch the glass or heat will be conducted out of the oven through the glass.
Galvanized sheet metal may be used inside the oven if desired. SBC temperatures are not high enough to disperse zinc, which melts at 419 F (215 C). Temperatures near or above the melting point cause some molecules to migrate and could pose a health hazard. If making any design of solar cooker that reaches near to the melting temperature avoid galvanized metal inside an oven.
LIDS having either a plug (Page 24, Fig. 1a) or a cap (Page 24, Fig. 1b) work best as they reduce heat loss out of the crack between the oven top and the glazing. Reflectors on the lids are made either the size of the glazed window opening (Page 24, Fig. 2a) or the size of the total top.(Page 24, Fig. 2b) Lids covering the full top have advantages in that as the sun passes, more of the reflected light will fall on the glazing even when the sun is far to the side. Lids the exact size of the glazing begin to lose reflection as soon as optimum focus is passed and so reduce somewhat the non-focused performance. In addition, the smaller lids which can press directly on the glazing do not protect as well as full top sizes.
Lids that hinge at the back edge of an SBC (Page 25, Fig. 3a) reflect some light onto the oven top thus losing potential heat. Lids that hinge at the edge of the oven opening (Page 25, Fig. 3b) throw a greater proportion of reflected light into the SBC resulting in better cooking than those hinged at the back surface.
PROPS need to allow a reflective lid to swing from far forward to far back from the perpendicular. The prop must then firmly brace the reflector in the chosen position against both forward and backward movement. This can be done with strings, sticks, wires or a combination. Props have customarily been secured from the upper corner of the lid to the forward corner of the outer box. This requires a stick longer than the box and is difficult to store. Props that are secured from midway up the lid to midway along the side of the SBC give sufficient stability and are short enough to store within the inner box when the SBC is being transported. Whichever length is used, the methods of adjusting the angle of the lid and fastening it in position remain the same. For some prop designs see Page 18.
Not included in the box on Props, is a simple firm wire bent at the ends to poke into holes in corrugated cardboard or drilled in wood. Small pads of cardboard squares may be glued to the lid to receive the wire ends and these pads replaced as needed, or the wire may go into the cardboard of the box and lid themselves. The wire alone is often sufficient, but in areas of persistent wind, a small cord with tightening device may need to be used as well. Or it may be necessary to use a stick form of prop as the wire acts as a spring in gusty wind.
The prop should be on the "morning sun" side of the oven. This, of course, changes from the northern to southern hemisphere. The point is that as the sun moves, the prop shadow can either fall onto the ground, or across the glass. The shadow spreads with the dropping sun, and if it falls on the glass it reduces the oven function unnecessarily. This reduction takes place as the oven goes out of focus and therefore is particularly crucial. While SBCs can cook slowly on as little as 1/3 of the full sunlight, if the collection area is further reduced by shadow, cooking power is reduced. This is important when doing absentee cooking, cooking under less than full sun, or with low angled sun as in winter cooking or cooking late in the day. Serious solar box cookers, built to provide meals under whatever available sun conditions, should have all possible solar collection area. Place the prop so, as the sun moves, the shadow migrates toward the edge of the oven, not across the glasson the east side in the northern hemisphere and on the west side in the southern hemisphere.
REFLECTORS for maximum usefulness should be the full size of the top and the hinges should bend at the edge of the inner oven, as discussed under the section on Lids. (See Fig. 2 on Page 24 and Fig. 3 on Page 25). Typical thin kitchen-weight aluminum or tin foil, not heavy duty, is our first choice for reflectors. When foiling the reflector, some wrinkles are inevitable. Flattened wrinkles and smooth patches do not significantly reduce the effectiveness of a reflector. Air bubbles behind foil are fragile on a reflector and change the direction of reflected light as well, thus reducing the effectiveness of a reflector. Bubbles can be reduced by pricking with a sharp object and pressing air out before glue dries. Any glue on the surface of the foil should be carefully and gently washed off as it will block reflection.
To insure stability, the combined weight of the lid and reflector are designed to be much lighter than the empty oven box. Glass mirror reflectors have proved to be top heavy and fragile as well as producing a blinding reflection. In addition, mirrors function through back surface reflection which reduces the sunlight available for cooking. Sunlight falling on a glass mirror must first penetrate the glass to the reflective surface on the back and then pass through the glass again on the way out. A fraction of the sunlight is absorbed on each pass reducing the amount of solar energy a back surface reflector can deliver to the oven. Front surface reflectors, such as foil or polished metal, reflect a greater proportion of sunlight and are a better choice as they deliver more sunlight to the oven. Galvanized metal is durable and produces a useful amount of reflection without the blinding quality of mirror-finished metal but will dull in time when exposed to acid gases and other air pollutants.
GLAZING is a key component to a successful SBC. All glazing blocks some sunlight. Thicker glazings generally block more sunlight than thin ones. Glazings may be regular window glass or certain synthetic glass-like substances.
Two layers of glazing work better than one as the heated air trapped in the small space between layers acts as an insulator over the face of the oven. Two layers of thinner glass or other glazing with ¼ to ½ inch (6 to 12 mm) air space between provide better insulation than the same thickness combined into one pane. Since the oven face is the point of most heat loss, double glazing conserves significant amounts of heat that otherwise would dissipate. A second glazing also protects the inner glazing from chilly winds. Although it blocks a little more of the light, in addition to conserving more heat double glazing by decreasing the moisture condensing inside the window may eventually allow more sunlight through. The net result is a hotter SBC if double glazing is used, particularly on cold and windy days.
Clear window glass, standard single thickness (2.5 mm), has proved very satisfactory. Thinner glass has less tendency to crack from heat than thicker panes, probably because it heats more quickly and evenly, reducing thermal strains. Plate glass is very heavy and has been satisfactory only when tempered. Some SBC designers choose single glazing for portable models with temporary second glazing as an option for poor weather. Often permanent double glazing is chosen for all-weather SBCs and this is probably ideal where materials are available.
Window glass, although fragile, is usually available in urban areas, while tempered glass and synthetic glazings are specialty materials requiring unique supply lines. Window glass is available around the world and therefore in that respect is preferable. Glass does not degrade in sunlight and if protected from thermal strains and impacts, is more durable than most plastic glazings, even those that are treated against degradation by ultra-violet rays.
Low iron glass allows more radiation to penetrate into the box and makes a hotter oven but is not essential. One way glazing has been found to reduce the function of an SBC according to an engineering study done through Solar Box Cookers Northwest. Recycled automobile glass, particularly flat pieces from the side windows of vans, has been used successfully but even pieces that appear clear may be tinted to some degree to cut down on heat in the vehicle or have added materials to make safety glass. Both tints and all added materials block some solar radiation.
Glass may be tempered if desired although the cost of tempering is so high that occasionally replacing glass may be cheaper in the long run for homecrafted SBCs. Glass that has simple heat cracks may be held in place by silicon sealant or nontoxic glue or a narrow strip of tape. Mass produced SBCs customarily use tempered glass.
The first glazing being nearest the food must be nontoxic to prevent poisonous fumes from entering the food. Glass, of course, is non-toxic. At this time, among the available plastics, the common alternatives to glass are heat-resistant nylon (such as Reynolds Oven Cooking Bags), and polyester or polyethylene plastic films available near the foil section of grocery stores in the United States. Many grocery store plastic films have a polyvinyl base and are not suitable for SBC cooking, but some are clearly labeled made of polyesters or polyethylene. Polyvinyl may release a vinyl-related gas when heated to SBC temperatures for the periods of time needed by SBC cooking. For this reason it is not recommended for use in SBCs unless further research establishes its safety for this specific purpose. Translucent fiberglass sheeting is made with a toxic resin and off-gases for a long time. It is not recommended for inner glazing, however, it is frequently used as outer glazing because of its impact resistance, lightweight and durability.
A large size cooking bag (heat-resistant nylon) can be cut open and glued on a frame to lay on top of the oven under the lid, or may be glued directly onto the lid like glass.
To work a plastic glazing, lay glue around the window opening, place the plastic, pull it tight and hold with masking tape until the glue sets. If desired, make a second glazing on the other side. Masking tape alone will not hold in the heat.
Pull it very tightly to reduce flutter on windy days as that will fan heat out of the oven. Such heat resistant glazings make very light ovens and are moderately durable but in time kitchen-grade plastic glazings become brittle. Thicker, oven-safe polyester glazings, some of which are treated to resist degradation by ultra-violet light, may be available as special order items.
Single strength window pane glass overlapping the window opening by ¾" attached with silicon sealant or glue may be used if preferred.
An oven having a permanent, double glazed window, and a side door, resists wind chill best. Where the top is used as the door, the lid may be built with either a plug fitting down into the oven, or with a cap folding over the edges to help prevent wind from blowing heat out. (See Figures 2a and 2b in the section on Lids.)
Most SBC builders simply glue their glass or plastic glazing onto the cardboard of the lid. The cardboard is slightly flexible, reducing the incidence of thermal cracks in glass, yet providing good protection during handling. Some ovens have been made with a narrow strip of cardboard sandwiched on the outer edge between two pieces of cardboard frame thus providing space for glass. Such frames are either glued or stitched on the outer edge a fingerwidth from the edge of the glass. Glass is allowed to move slightly within this casing and sealant is not essential.
Flexible glazing may be wrapped around a cardboard frame to give the two layers. Cardboard frames are simply laid on top of the oven under the lid.
Alternatively, FRAMES for the glazing may be made of wood. For single strength glass in a wooden frame, a small (1/8 inch or .3 cm) clearance around the edge of the glass as it lays in the frame reduces breakage from thermal expansion. Glass is secured with a flexible sealant. The inner glazing must be well sealed to prevent heat leaking from the oven. Second glazings need a maximum of half an inch (2.5 cm) separation from the inner pane. Many home builders do not permanently seal two glazings together, but simply lay the second glazing, either glass or plastic, above a well sealed inner pane. This arrangement allows easy access for cleaning. Double glass panes if permanently sealed, require at least one small opening from the space between panes to the outside to relieve pressure which otherwise might break the glass.
Frames will be true if the pieces from opposite ends are squarely cut and equal. With equal lengths for opposite pieces, a frame can be squared by using the corner of any book, magazine or commercially cut piece of paper as a guide.
An insulating strip between the glazing frame and top of oven is not essential if the top surface is smooth. For irregular tops, solid commercial insulation strips work well if heat resistant. To make a crafted gasket, lay a bead of silicon sealant, paper mash or similar material on the top edge of the oven, cover it with waxed paper and close the lid. Remove the waxed paper when the sealant has hardened. The Dhauladar design by Didi Contractor uses a double fold of woolen fabric glued to the surface beneath the edge of the glass with a final fold brought up to rest on the top edge of the glass thus thoroughly wrapping the edge of the glass and binding it to the frame. It is a permanent seal as access in this design is through a door in the side.
It is essential that INTERIOR PAINTS used for pots, trays or walls be nontoxic and without persistent odor. Some house paint contains mercury or other substances as a fungicide and should definitely not be used inside an oven. Such paint gives off toxic fumes even at room temperatures and would give off even more at cooking temperatures. Nontoxic white paint has reportedly been used for inner sides in place of foil. It is important that the white be as shiny and white as possible. Such ovens have generally cooked less well than similar foiled models. Ceramic paints so far have not performed well and give off odor for very long periods of time as well as performing poorly.
For trays and the outsides of pots, any dark color will produce heat better than any light color. Light-colored or bright pots reflect solar radiation away and so are slower to heat, or heat only from the hot air with little or no heat produced on the surface of the pot. Dark red, dark green, dark blue, and dark brown colors may be used. Paints on pots are best kept thin since thick paints insulate. On surfaces darkened by handicraft methods even "nontoxic" paints still may not be safe for ingesting so food should not be laid directly on a home-painted tray but needs to be cooked inside a pot or on a commercially dark tray. Paints that contain toxic solvents may be used ONLY IF THE TOXIC SOLVENT WILL BE COMPLETELY DRIVEN OFF BY PREHEATING. Determine this by using only commercial paints recommended for barbecue equipment or other specific food-related uses. Nontoxic homemade paints include childrens non-toxic black paint powder, such as Tempera, soot from clean wood mixed with nontoxic water-based glue or soot mixed with cooking oil that smokes at low temperatures. High temperature cooking oils will remain sticky indefinitely but low temperature oils will become baked on.
Any new SBC is best heated initially for several hours without food to clear out any residual vapors. Some engine and conventional black paints never get over releasing heavy odors and will ruin an oven. If in doubt, run a preliminary test before risking any questionable paint.
Any EXTERIOR PAINTS or varnishes may be used to weather-proof the outside of the oven. The color of the outside does not affect oven temperatures if insulation is adequate.
Dark POTS with tight dark POT LIDS greatly speed solar cooking. There is a wide variety of potential equipment. Pots and lids of thin material heat faster than thick; metal faster than ceramic or earthenware except cast iron which is good but slow to heat initially; metal generally faster than glass; glass faster than gourds. All will make cooking equipment depending on availability. When darkening pots and lids, treat the outside only.
Occasionally it is fun to see the cooking. Lids may be left off of dark cakes, some cookies, corn chips with melting cheese, and a few other foods if desired. More moisture will condense on the oven glazing and the food will heat more slowly. Moisture condensing on the inside of the glazing may be wiped off intermittently with a clean soft cloth. If steaming persists and there is good sunlight, a small pebble or stick temporarily may be placed under the glazing frame or around the access door to open it slightly and allow moisture to vent. To reduce the condensation problem while still allowing full visibility, a small square of glass can be substituted for a lid. This is not recommended for routine cooking due to color changes which may indicate vitamin loss.
Foil is not generally recommended to wrap food for solar cooking, however, temporary pots or lids may be formed out of one layer of darkened foil in absence of any other equipment. Conventionally foil-wrapped food cooks very slowly if at all because shiny foil, particularly in multiple layers, insulates by reflecting sunlight and heat away.
Glass jars make good pots although they cook better if darkened rather than left clear. Also, darkening the outside of food containers will protect some of the B Vitamins. When painting the jars, a strip of masking tape placed from top to bottom before painting can be removed when the paint is dry to leave a tidy strip of clear glass for visual inspection of the inside.
Shiny pots or bread pans may be placed into brown paper bags or dark cloth bags to successfully cook without painting them. If using paper bags or cloths, heat them alone for several hours before using them with food in order to drive off any unwanted vapors. Alternatively, a number of separate foods may be cooked in small, clear jars all under one dark tray or dark lid of a roasting pan.
When using jars for cooking, make a hole in the lid of any non-canning jar, such as mayonnaise jars, peanut butter jars, etc., to prevent steam buildup. Dome and ring canning jar lids that are designed for food preservation automatically release excess steam pressure yet are safe only when used on canning strength, food preservation jars. The thickness and strength of non-canning glass jars is not intended to take the strain of steam under pressure and could break explosively unless vented.
Some low-fired earthenware pots do not initially cook well although dark colored, hard-fired earthenware pots with glazing work very well. Perhaps the poor performance of some earthenware is due to liquid soaking through and evaporating on the outside, or perhaps it is due to the thickness and porous nature of low-fired clay pot sides. Experimentally, in the efforts to use low-fired, unglazed earthenware, the goal has been to approximate the hard-fired pots by filling the pores and to providing a form of glazing. On a homecraft basis, this has been done by saturating the pot with food-type oil, fat or natural resin which both closes the pores and changes the surface. Oil also will conduct heat rather well and this may be part of what improves cooking in low-fired, earthenware pots following oil treatment. Light colored earthenware needs to be darkened on the outside only, perhaps by rubbing a dark food, nontoxic dark powder or soot from clean wood into the oil coating. Even so, there may be forms of low fired earthenware that are difficult to use for SBCs.
Gourds to be used as pots need to be fully ripened, scraped and cleaned to a thin hard shell and, if of a light-skin variety, need to be darkened on the outside. Gourds almost completely filled with food cooked better than gourds with a little food in the bottom. Experimentally, like with low-fired earthenware, treating inside and outside surfaces with vegetable oil or animal fat seems to improve the cooking times. Low temperature oils which scorch to a useful dark brown are olive oil, used lard, and peanut oil. The point at which oils will darken can be lowered by utilizing old oil that has been used for cooking, perhaps which still has food particle in it, or which has an added emulsifier.
The Santa Domingo gourds tested were kept sitting upright while they grew. After harvest, they were dried outdoors in the shade for some months until the seeds begin to rattle. Then the tops were cut off and the seeds and inner pulp removed. They were scraped to a hard surface inside and out. Our test gourds held between 1 and 1.5 quarts (.95 and 1.4 liters) and after preparing as pots were almost spherical with 3 inch (7.5 cm) openings. The sides were approximately 1/8 inch thick (.3 cm).They held liquids, did not flavor the food and produced cooked food over a period of many weeks. Heat seemed to penetrate slowly. Gourds cooked faster with lids made of a small squares of clear glass rather than dark lids, which sacrificed some level of B Vitamins in some foods. This was judged to be a minor effect compared to the convenience of being able to grow your own solar pots in some cases.
On an experimental basis, where very large gourds are available their shells might be evaluated for use as inner boxes. If they proved successful, used in conjunction with gourd pots in an insulated pit or other outer insulation, the materials needs for low temperature SBCs in equatorial regions might be reduced to simply foil for the inner surface of the large gourd and the glazing...or perhaps to only the glazing? This is highly speculative and cannot be appropriately evaluated at 34.4 N. Latitude where our work is done.
POT LIDS can be HOMEMADE by turning the pot upside down on a flattened piece of metal and drawing an outline. Cut the metal about ¼ inch (.6 cm) outside the line. File or sand the sharp edges to dull the cut surfaces and protect the fingers. This may be done simply by rubbing a rock along the cuts. Working regularly around the lid piece with pliers, bend the edge down at the line. Sometimes the fluting looks nice. If necessary, cut from the edge into the line to allow the pieces of edge to overlap. Darken the outside of the lid and heat it for several hours before using it with food. Temporary lids made be made by the same method using a brown paper bag and creasing the paper at the line. These also need to be heated alone for several hours before being used with food. Sometimes small holes are punched in a lid to allow moisture to escape and produce a drier crust on foods such as breads or breadcrumb toppings, cakes and cookies.
Nutritional research in great detail has been done by Professor George Hammons and others at Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, USA. After analysis of many different nutrients in food cooked equal times by conventional methods and by solar box cookers using dark pots with lids they concluded that solar cooked foods retained nutrition as well as or better than foods cooked by conventional methods in spite of the longer cooking times required.
Small pieces of glass may serve as lids on many different pots, as mentioned previously. The question as to how much vitamin loss occurs when food is cooked without a pot lid or under clear glass needs to be researched. Judging from color changes, there may be some vitamin or nutrient change if food is exposed to bright sunlight while cooking. This may be more important when cooking liquids than when cooking solids, since liquids will circulate by convective flow exposing a greater proportion of the food to the sunlit edges. Riboflavin, a major B vitamin destroyed by light, is found in milk and milk products, eggs, liver, kidney, grass, fruits, leafy vegetables, yeast, etc. These foods with light-sensitive vitamins definitely should be cooked in dark containers.
Research is still needed comparing the effects of solar cooking with food exposed to the sunlight after it has passed through various layers of glazing with solar cooked food using lids. Research is also needed on whether or not there are significant amounts of aluminum compounds absorbed into the food from aluminum pots when foods, particularly acid foods, are cooked at the relatively low temperatures for extended periods of time typical of solar box cooking. Until the facts are established, foods should be cooked with dark covers and aluminum pots not be used unless no other pots are available. Also, there are unresolved questions at this time about the possible uptake of metal compounds into food cooked in tin cans.
TRAYS used for the heat absorber on the bottom of the solar oven need to be dark, almost cover the bottom, and support the weight of pots and food. Ideally, they should contain any liquids that might spill and be removable for cleaning. Within this range there is great variation and all the criteria are sometimes not met. Lightweight, darkened or enameled metal trays are usual and may be made of steel or aluminum. Recycled, dark-enamel conventional oven trays have been utilized successfully. Dark cookie sheets, if the proper size, will work well. Moderately well-functioning SBC trays have been made with soot-blackened cardboard trays.
Crafted trays can be formed by hand with the techniques used for making pot lids. Roofers metal flashing or printers "mistake" sheets make fine trays. After starting the bends with pliers, the rims may be finished by hammering over a piece of wood with a square edge.
All trays need to be elevated slightly off the bottom of the oven. A University of Washington engineering study states that a thick tray will transfer heat to the pot more effectively than a thin one. This is particularly true when the tray is elevated above the foiled bottom.18 Field tests confirm these effects. If the hot metal tray is in direct contact with the foil on the bottom, heat will be conducted through the foil and into the bottom insulation. Thin wood strips, little pillars of cardboard, or narrow strips of cardboard glued into circles may be used to elevate the metal tray a bit (1/4 in., approx. 0.6 cm) above the bottom foil. With the tray floating in space on these small supports, there is a minimum of tray-to-oven contact and heat flows most readily into the cooler pots. Many successful solar cooks over many years have never done this, but it is one proven way to work toward higher oven temperatures where they are desirable.
GLUES and pastes must be nontoxic and odor-free when heated. Originally Elmers White or Carpenters Wood Glue was most used. Water-based and nontoxic, it is widely available in the U.S.A. Any nontoxic glue that continues to hold in the oven temperatures works. Most rubber glues are toxic; heat-melt glues will not hold.
Homemade paste or glue can be made from some grains or flours, such as wheat, rice or oats, and work particularly for attaching foil to cardboard. Laboratory tests have established that wheat paste has adhesive strength equal to or exceeding Elmers White Glue. 18
Use a grain that makes thick sticky water when cooked. In the pastes tested the addition of about 1/8 part sugar or honey made some of them stick better. In Arizona, food glues which have dried are not edible to insects.
Cartilage from animal legs (the portion that ties muscle to bone, not hoof) can be boiled a long time and when hot spread for a durable hot glue useful on outer parts of the SBC. There are old references to fish glues but no record has yet come to me how that was done. Animal glues kept in a glass jar or tin can become soft enough to work when heated in an SBC. At the end of the work session, heating any of the organic glues or pastes in a container with a lid pasteurizes them so they are slower to spoil, particularly if they are then kept at low temperatures, like food. If using a non-canning jar, be sure to leave the lid loose until removing the jar from the SBC to relieve steam pressure.
If nontoxic, water-based glues or pastes are hard to obtain, consider taping, tying with spun fiber or bands of woven cloth, or stitching to hold the major pieces together.
This chapter, based on our experience to date, contains information to assist local designers. The creative mind of the local designer is by far the most important ingredient. To produce a large, insulated, glazed solar box cooker many different materials may be used in a new design, or any component may be changed according to the needs of the area and the designer. It is essential that new designs retain the fine cooking capabilities of the introductory models. In many, many areas around the globe through a friendly, harmonious relationship with natural forces and creative use of the materials readily available at hand, ordinary people familiar the background provided here can produce a major household appliancea cookstove with free fuel delivered every sunny day.
In designing solar box cookers for a variety of uses in different locations, the primary changes will be in the application of different materials and skills, rather than major changes in the time-tested basic design components. Cardboard, the preferred material for our portable cooking and teaching model, may not be suitable for many locations. The major Kerr-Cole designs have been based on use of cardboard, foil and crushed newspapers because they are easily available where we have done our work, environmentally sustainable and because they work well. In other areas, other materials may be more appropriate.
Each material has its own characteristics and design challenges. For instance, in using metal sidings, care must be taken to assure heat is not drawn out of the oven by a thermal bridge forming a radiator. In using basketry, care must be taken either to weave tightly or line the inner and outer units so air cannot penetrate or heat escape. This is part of the challenge for experimental designers...to use what is locally available to produce an SBC design that will function as needed.
The broad, shallow, well-insulted cavity with a dark bottom, the approximate size, the relatively large, glazed window, and in most areas of the world, the adjustable reflector must be maintained.
These solar box cooker components can be fabricated from any nontoxic material the craftworker chooses. In addition to being nontoxic, other material considerations include availability, minimal expense, ease of working, water resistance, cost, durability and weight. Different SBCs that are beautiful, functional and convenient can be produced all over the world using traditional construction methods with locally available materials.
Temperatures alone are deceptive because an SBC may or may not trap heat above, for example, 250 F (121 C) to 300 F (149 C). For some people, this sounds like a low temperature.
However, such SBCs can cook well. Under less than ideal conditions they are superior to designs based more exclusively on direct reflection since they use both direct and indirect solar radiation. A well-designed solar box oven will produce a larger, more even flow of heat and therefore deliver more cooked food than designs that rely more exclusively on reflection. Furthermore, many SBC cooks prefer 250 F (121 C) to 275 F (135 C) over 350 F (177 C) or above because the lower temperature ovens cook the food more gently and need less attention than higher temperature ovens.
Multiple reflector ovens that can reach 350 F (177 C) or higher and parabolic cookers which can even set fires utilize primarily direct solar radiation so their function drops more quickly than SBCs when clouds, haze, or pollution scatter the sunlight. Multiple reflector solar ovens and parabolic cookers present wind scoops that makes them liable to turn over in the wind. Also, a parabolic cooker may produce a point of high heat sufficient to fry and char food. Yet because the point of heat changes position so frequently as the sun moves, it requires a tracking device or frequent attention to refocus. The point focus has limited practical ability to produce multiple pots of cooked food. For most low temperature uses and particularly for cooking, the temperatures of a small focal point are not needed. Furthermore, the focal spot is a hazard as it can set materials on fire, or damage human tissue. Most parabolic designs are unstable in the wind and pots chill quickly in even moderate breezes. Few have the ability to retain heat through episodes of passing clouds. The most telling point perhaps is the extreme difficulty in producing an adequately curved parabolic reflector and mount with simply techniques.
A good approach to designing a solar box cooker to meet local conditions is to become familiar with a standard SBC which is known to cook well at that location. Then, change those design elements that need to be modified to meet special needs or local conditions. And finally to run parallel tests between the new design and the standard to evaluated the comparative ability to cook.
All new designs need comparative tests. Cooking actual food in the quantities usually served is the best ultimate test of a solar box cooker. Cooking is the primary purpose of an SBC and cooking is a direct test of an ovens function. How long cooking takes is important. It may be equally important to evaluate how easy an oven is to use, can it be easily maintained or repaired, is it stable in the wind, can the children effectively and safely work with it, etc.?
PARALLEL COOKING TESTS can include the following:
Place identical small amounts (1/4 cup; 60 cc.) of a quick cooking grain, such as rice, with the usual proportion of water in similar small jars or darkened food tins covered with a small piece of glass, one container for each SBC in the test. Start cooking in the usual manner. Without opening the ovens, watch for grains to emerge from the water cooked, noting which SBC cooks the grain fastest, second, and so forth. Give each SBC an initial ranking.
Other parallel tests could include ability to handle large mass, such as considerable amounts of grain in earthenware or cast iron, and the ability to handle the variety of pots or trays of food needed for a complete meal. Some standard tests rank the ability to heat a specified quantity of water, such as 2 liters in a standardized pot.Tests should be run under full sun conditions, and also under semi-overcast and very weak sun to identify the designs ability to utilize indirect solar radiation. Some tests should be run on windy and cold days; and some at very low sun angles, such as early or late in the day to simulate winter sun conditions.
Solar box cookers are a very "forgiving" technology. They do not have to be perfect, nor optimized in every respect to serve well. A practical, useful goal is to make designs that will cook absolutely the most conveniently possible, given what the designer has available and needs of the users and the types of cooking to be done.
The evolution of the basic SBC concepts to many different designs serving a variety of needs and cultural norms will dramatically increase the application of this simple technology to pressing food and environmental problems.
EXAMPLES OF SPECIAL DESIGNS
All of these were successful cookers. There are many potential variations. This flexibility is one major reason the solar box is a global solar design for solar cooking.
SBC - A GLOBAL SOLAR FORM
The basic SBCa large, flat-topped, insulated, glazed space with or without the single reflectoris so simple people often think, "So whats the big deal? Anybody could make one of those." That is music to my ears. The big deal is that these designs work! They cook! And they cook on free, widely distributed, abundant sunshine delivered automatically to the site. The SBC can quickly address a high-priority need in many locationsaccess to heat for cooking. These factors arouse enthusiasm and are the driving force of the spread of SBC technology. The simplicity of basic solar boxes leads to confidence and easy comprehension and is ideal for transfer of passive, low technology, solar energy usage across cultural and language barriers around the globe.
To maximize ease of such transfer and incidentally minimize the use of resources, the introductory design goals have been carefully refined. Following are the criteria of design that we have used:
The design is to be simple to comprehend and construct by people without extensive building skills.
Materials are to be widely available, as inexpensive as possible and easily substituted.
The cooker should use minimal Earth resources per unit and be maximally biodegradable ultimately, yet durable while in use.
All components within the cooking space are to be nontoxic at cooking temperatures following a brief initial seasoning by solar heat.
Construction is to require only minimal tools usually available in or around a home.
The cooker is to be capable of cooking a full meal for a large household or group within a reasonable length of time, such as between sunrise and the midday meal, or between noon and sundown meanwhile requiring minimal attention.
The cooker is to be safe for people, including childrenwithout danger of setting fire, producing blinding reflection, or causing a blister when touched on the outside. Safe for foodwith little danger of upsetting or losing food.
The cooker is to cook quickly enough that there is no danger of food poisoning when correctly used.
These design goals have been met by the basic SBC designs developed by Kerr-Cole Solar Box Cookers and others working in the group of volunteers associate with that work.
Our basic design goals do not contain the targets of maximum collection of solar radiation, maximum production of heat, maximum thermal efficiency or maximum durability. These are incorporated to the degree possible as secondary design goals. Our basic introductory SBCs are tailored to be obtainable independently, individually, and under adverse conditions such as lack of money, lack of market outlet, lack of advanced knowledge, lack of government or other organizational support or in emergencies.
Herein lie some of the special characteristics that have made current solar box cooking efforts acceptable on a wide scale, cross-culturally, where previous solar cooking efforts have not been self-sustaining. It is delightfully empowering to construct a major labor-saving, home appliance by ones own initiative and effort. It is within the grasp of vast numbers of people who, independently, can handicraft, use and maintain their own SBC. If it is to be mass-produced, ideally manufacturing would be done as local industry, in small businesses close to the point of sale and still using locally available labor and biodegradable materials.
Reasons for DESIGN CHOICES include the following:
The BOX FORM is familiar, lowering the emotional challenge of putting food into an SBC as opposed to more unusual designs. It looks simple, often homeyyet it can be made in a beautifully artistic way by skilled workers through careful detail work and personal decorating. This is an extremely important factor.
The BOX FORM can easily be adapted to many other uses for low tech passive solar heating such as greenhouses, water heaters, pasteurizers, or incubators, and so it is a good form for basic solar education.
The SINGLE REFLECTOR/LID, in addition to requiring little material, is simpler to build and requires less reflective material than the multiple reflectors or curved reflectors required by some cookers. Yet it provides adequate heat for cooking and protection for the glazing during transport and storage.
The single flat reflector minimizes wind resistance. When combined with the heavy, broad oven base, the unit resists overturning by wind. It allows maximum sun without shadow from the side as the sun passes.
The FLAT TOP is simpler to build for many people than a sloping or beveled top. It allows the inner oven bottom to be fully used as the entire oven is the same depth. Also, heat that stratifies in the upper level is held down over the top of pots by the flat top. While the flat top is particularly well suited to areas close to the equator where 60 or more maximum sun angles occur most of the year, it continues to function quite far from the equator, at least as far as the 50 latitudes.
The flat top stacks and stores well and can double for other functions such as a small table or a box for transporting food and pots.
The LARGE COOKING AREA allows several regular size pots to cook simultaneously, closely matching the meal pattern in many parts of the world.
The LARGE GLAZED AREA, the transparent window, collects both direct and indirect radiation allowing cooking under somewhat overcast conditions if necessary.
SBCs CANNOT SET FIRE to anything since they never reach minimal ignition temperatures. With no intensely concentrated hot spot, they are also safer for eyes, particular the eyes of malnourished individuals or children. Foil reflection is functionally bright, yet not blinding.
Using the design factors and the basic heat principles experienced with the introductory SBC, the COMPONENTS CAN BE CHANGED within logical limits to meet local preferences, such as a basketry, quilted or a wooden exterior. For instance, perhaps some designers will deliberately sacrifice use of the early morning and late afternoon sunshine, and build a local SBC without a reflector in an equatorial region in order to save on materials. In such case, they will know that the protection of the glass by the lid will be sacrificed unless a non-reflective top is provided.
Utilizing practical knowledge and experience gained through making and cooking in the introductory basic SBC, the designing of other glazed, well insulated heat traps is expedited. SBC technology is going forward to function in shapes and materials familiar to each area.
The Kerr-Cole SBC EcoCooker design has been the backbone of American solar box cooker global outreach. Made of cardboard, it was especially developed as a lightweight, portable, teaching and cooking demonstration tool. The EcoCooker kit provides pieces that can be assembled to provide a good teaching and cooking model and that can be used as patterns to cut pieces for more cardboard SBCs perhaps out of recycled materials. It can also be used to discuss the components needed for a successful SBC made of more weatherproof or locally available materials. Finally, it has been used as a convincer to prove that the simple box design will successfully solve a major domestic problem around the globe.
Multiple lines of approach to building SBCs are developing. Some of these current efforts are working are toward even lighter weight, smaller sizes while retaining optimum cooking capacity, collapsible models for easier transporting, and some SBCs using even less material. These also serve as models for SBCs that can be made of many other substances.
A great many SBC designs will probably not be made of cardboard. There may need to be a large number of variations of SBCs even within the same country, depending on the materials, skills and traditions of each area. It is important that adaptations be formulated to meet the needs of varying localities. Experimental research is best done by far-sighted, knowledgeable members of the group who will use the resulting SBC, or at least with their close cooperation.
Within the United States there are at least four small commercial efforts producing SBCs based on outer shells of wood, metal, fiberglass or plaster. There are also innumerable designs with cardboard as the primary material. These varied efforts all incorporate the relatively large, adequately insulated heat trap oven with a flat, broad base accommodating multiple cooking vessels and utilizing a combination of direct, indirect, and reflected sunlight.
At present the tendency seems to be toward accepting lower oven temperatures than were initially felt to be essential. In fact, food will cook in ovens that only reach 220 F to 250 F although ovens that reach 300 F or higher handle more food and cook faster. Much above 300 F, an oven loses the ability to cook food without charring or overcooking it and so require amounts of attention and precision not necessary for SBCs within the range from 220 F to 300 F.
As the basic concepts of the solar box cooker are adapted to different cultural, artistic and craft traditions, some of the design changes will affect the cooking function. A standard SBC may be used for parallel cooking tests to check on the changes being incorporated, and to establish optimum local forms without inadvertently losing cooking effectiveness.
When SBCs are introduced into a culture, local endorsements, as well as religious ceremonies and blessings, should be respectfully utilized where it is appropriate. Of course, local colors and pictorial decorations for the outside as well as local material for construction of the SBC should be encouraged.
In addition to cooking, solar boxes and the principles learned through cooking in a solar box cooker may be used for many other home and commercial heating purposes. Sometimes the SBC used for cooking regular meals can be used for the alternate use. But sometimes it is better to build a separate SBC or an adapted solar box for a special purpose.
PASTEURIZATION of water and milk are by far the most important non-cooking uses of solar box cookers. Pasteurization kills microbiological life such as viruses including rotoviruses, bacteria, cysts, flukes, worms, eggs, and other living contaminants. Use of an SBC does not remove toxic substances such as heavy metal or mineral salts, radioactive particles, pesticides, most chemicals or other non-living contaminants of water.
Careful scientific studies have documented that water can be pasteurized in an SBC. It has also been established that temperatures required for milk pasteurization can easily be obtained. "Heating water in an SBC to at least 65 C (149 F) ensures that the water will be above the milk pasteurization temperature of 62.8 C (145 F) for at least an hour, which appears sufficient to pasteurize contaminated water." If the temperature reaches 71.1 C (160 F), milk is pasteurized in 15 seconds.
These studies were performed with 3.7-liter jugs (gallon jugs). They also state "On clear or partly cloudy days, with the SBC facing magnetic south in Sacramento, (California, USA, 38.5 N. Latitude, low altitude), bottom water temperatures of at least 65 C could be obtained in 11.1 liters (2.9 gallons) of water during the 6 weeks on either side of the summer solstice." They were using a fixed southern focus and fixed perpendicular reflector. Reduced quantities could be pasteurized at the beginning and end of their solar season. And "Periodic repositioning of the SBC towards the sun, adjusting the back reflective lid, and preheating water in a simple reflective device increased final water temperatures. Simultaneous cooking and heating water to pasteurizing temperatures was possible. Additional uses of the SBC to pasteurize soil and to microbiologically decontaminate hospital materials before disposal in remote areas are suggested."4
Sacramento is out of the sun belt and has approximately a seven-month solar season. Areas with higher sun angles will get proportionately better pasteurization results and may be able to use these techniques throughout the year. Also pasteurization may be continued during the off-season by processing lesser amounts or using smaller containers. Integrating this scientific information into a household routine has led to some other adaptations.
HOUSEHOLD PASTEURIZATION is particularly valuable. Pasteurize by placing the fluid in dark pots with dark lids, or in darkened or clear gallon jugs or in quart and pint jars with rubber seals so it is available in individual portable form. As mentioned before, Riboflavin, an important B vitamin in milk, is destroyed by light. Therefore, dark jars or covered pots are best for milk whereas water with a little extra time may be processed in clear glass on a dark tray in an SBC in full sunlight. To process by the gallon, an especially deep solar box cooker is constructed.
To avoid permanently darkening glass jars, unpainted jars may be set in the SBC and then covered with a dark, navy blue or black, cotton cloth. Another alternative is for clear jars to be placed within a dark lidded pot. These methods heat fluids more slowly than painted jars exposed in the sunlit oven.
Food preservation canning jars with dome lids and rings are safe in an SBC; non-canning jars are not safe if the lids are closed tightly since they do not release steam automatically and are not structurally designed to withstand pressure. Steam may build up and NON-CANNING JARS MAY EXPLODE IF LIDS ARE ON TIGHT or are not vented with holes in the lids.
Canning jars using dome lids and rings may be sealed tightly during the entire run. If using vented lids for processing, place a set of solid lids in the SBC during the run and use them to seal the jars as they are removed from the SBC. Place jars in the solar box cooker with space between each jar and focus as for cooking. Pasteurization has occurred when the temperature in the water or milk at the bottom of one container near the equatorial wall of the SBC reaches 149 F (65 C) or when the wax in a temperature indicator melts and runs to the bottom of its space. If a thermometer or other heat sensing equipment is not available, heat well beyond the point where bubbles appear, until bubbles are rising steadily in a gentle boil.
When pasteurization has occurred, seal the lids on non-canning jars as they are removed from the SBC. Pasteurized sealed jugs and jars of water may be cooled and stored prior to use, ready to grab and go, providing safe drinking water throughout the day. Pasteurized milk should be cooled immediately, stored in a cool area preferably below 50 F (10 C). With cool storage, pasteurized milk will keep up to a week or longer. Milk can be pasteurized and then incubated with yogurt culture until it thickens. Yogurt and buttermilk keep longer than plain milk and so are particularly useful in households without cold storage.
If a full run is not needed, two or three pint or quart glass jars of water or milk placed in an SBC after food has reached cooking temperature will be pasteurized without interfering with cooking.
If the water tastes bad, a small amount of organic citrus peel, fruit juice, vinegar, or other acid flavoring may be added to the water prior to pasteurization.
This pasteurization information relates only to water and milk. Food, sauces and juices cooked in an SBC should be handled for food safety like the same foods cooked by ones conventional fuel. For Food Safety see Chapter 2 on Basic Theory.
SOLAR DRIED FOODS in small quantities can be prepared with an SBC but solar box cookers do not make efficient food driers. There are solar designs specifically for drying food which are far superior to adapting a solar box cooker for this purpose. Because an SBC is tightly closed, water vapor cannot easily escape. In addition, even if the lid is partially open it is very easy to get the SBC too hot and cook food instead of drying it. Using the box section and a reflective lid without glazing or simply not using a lid may be tried experimentally. Also, small quantities of food may be dried on the top glazing on a rack.
Both of the above methods may provide some protection from insects. In Arizona, flies, wasps and other insects avoid going into the very bright light thrown by reflectors. This method has not been tested where there is a severe fly or other insect problem. Experimentally, fish, meat or other food might be dried either with a lidless solar box, or in front of a large corner-shaped reflector like the simple water warmer. (See Page 72, Diagram 11).
INFESTATIONS IN GRAINS AND DRIED FOODS can be killed by heat. Grains or dried foods infested with weevils and other insect larva can be spread in a one half-inch (1.2 cm) deep layer on a tray. Place tray in a preheated SBC. Leave for 10 minutes, stir food, and leave for another 10 minutes. Cool and store securely. Check in a few days to be sure the infestation is completely gone.If necessary, a second treatment may be given using longer times.If dried foods have obviously been contaminated by insects, heat treat them just prior to storage even though no larvae or weevils are yet visible. It will kill the eggs. SBC heat treatment also halts mildew and mold in stored foods.
Natural wool fleece, yarn or cloth can be heat treated up to 150 F (65.5 C) without apparently damaging its strength, color or durability. This should either be done in a very large SBC, or in batches small enough so that the heat penetrates to the very core and bottom of the material.
SOLAR FOOD PRESERVATION (CANNING) is safe only for ACID FOODS. Acid foods are fruits, fruit juices, jellies, jams and sauces, sour tomatoes, and most pickles...those foods which can be processed conventionally in a boiling water bath. Hot air in an SBC functions similarly to water in a boiling water bath. There were problems with hot air canning in the past due probably to the fact that conventional ovens have not held an overall uniform temperature, so food in cooler spots in ovens was not fully processed. Also temperatures drop before a thermostat clicks on. With the steady temperature in an SBC there are no seriously cold spots and many food preservation runs of acid foods processed in the following manner have been kept for months and years in good condition.
Food selection, preparation, syrups, and times are identical to those used in good food preservation and canning manuals. The way to achieve these are adapted to the special characteristics of SBCs. Hot packing after stewing the fruit in a dark pot makes a fuller packed jar as air has been driven off and the fibers softened. However, cold packed food also keeps well. Preferably use commercial jars with dome lids and rings as these can be sealed prior to processing in an SBC.
To preserve acid foods, use a good food preservation or canning manual for basic instructions. Prepare the food, pack the jars adding hot or cold water or syrup to complete the fill, place a moistened dome lid on top and tighten the ring. Place the jars on the dark tray in an SBC with at least ½ inch (0.6 cm) space between jars. As with pasteurization, clear jars may be used if covered with a dark cloth or placed within a large lidded dark pot. Focus the SBC and allow preheating. During preheating the dome lids are steamed and jar contents are heated, exhausting internal air from the food. When oven temperature has returned to 225 F (107 C), timing starts. To allow a safe margin, oven is usually held above 225 F (107 C). It is crucial that the air temperature in the SBC not drop below boiling during the time of processing. Use the regular times given in a good standard manual for boiling water bath treatment. The SBC temperature may rise further without harm but if the temperature drops below 212 F (100 C) timing should be started over if the temperature recovers or the batch run again next day.
If there is no thermometer or timing is not possible, allow jars to remain in the SBC until one actively boils or runs over. This indicates that food temperatures well above the minimum needed for safe canning of acid foods have been reached. Take out the whole run. Immediately seal any non-canning jars, but do not further tighten rings on dome lids.
Follow clean, careful methods when preserving, storing and using foods. As with conventionally canned foods, carefully check stored foods before tasting any amount, however small. Canned or preserved goods, either commercial or home processed, should be clean looking, clear of any mold or bubbling, lid should be on securely until deliberately removed, there should be no spurting pressure when food is opened, and the odor, both when cold and after warming, should be good. At any hint of foul smell or questionable condition, food should be discarded without tasting it. Discard by burying deeply, below animal level. Safety in the use of techniques in this book is the responsibility of the SBC user.
Solar box cookers CANNOT preserve most vegetables, meat, fish, grains, or other low-acid foods. They are better stored after pickling, salting, or drying. To be kept in a moist condition, PRESERVING NON-ACID AND LOW-ACID FOODS REQUIRES THE HIGHER TEMPERATURES OBTAINABLE ONLY BY PRESSURIZED STEAM to kill all the spores of organisms that spoil them. The problem with non-acid and low acid foods is that spores not killed by boiling water temperatures can sustain bacterial growth and toxin production within the cool, processed food. Some non-acid food spoilage, such as botulism is fatal in very small quantities. Never taste questionable food.
EVAPORATION of juices into syrups, and pureed fruits into fruit butter, as well as thickening watery maple syrup, etc., gives good quality food if processed in glass, enameled steel, or stainless steel. Place food for evaporation in a shallow pan in solar box cooker. Glass jars can also be used, but they evaporate much slower than a shallow pan. When food is steaming, set the pot lid off and raise the SBC lid slightly with a small pebble or stick. Evaporation takes place slowly but little attention is required.
For SANITIZED DISHES, scalding hot rinsing water is unnecessary if an SBC is used to heat the clean dishes after they are washed and rinsed. This treatment is much quicker than heating rinse water. Pasteurizing temperature can be estimated by heating until the center of the dish stack is too hot to touch. By that time the forks and spoons as well as small drinking vessels which have had mouth contact are quite hot. For washing, water can be heated to a comfortable level in a dark container simply set in the sun. For temperatures up to perhaps 120 F (49 C) set the dark container in the corner of three-sided, foiled water warmer. (See Page 72, Diagram 11).
DRYING SMALL FUELWOOD, tinder and bundles of kindling can be done any time the SBC is not in use for cooking. If very much condensation occurs, leave the lid slightly open to allow moisture to escape. Solar drying rather quickly makes tinder and kindling easier to light. Drying heavier wood, such as logs, is a slow process but considered by some to be worth it because more heat and less smoke results when dry wood is burned than when it is green or damp. Split logs dry faster than solid logs because of the open cut.
There are solar designs specifically for drying of wood depending on the sizes and volume to be processed. These might also be tried experimentally for drying dung. Solar fuel dryers are different from SBCs. As examples, a solar fuel box may be constructed without insulation...just a box, with top glazing. Large air vents are arranged at the top and bottom with the openings protected from driving rains. Sometimes the wood dryers are big sheds with glazing on top and on the side facing the equator. Some designs have heat concentrating troughs that lead hot air into the shed section. A very large flow of hot, dry air through the wood stacks is essential. This is a special field and worthy of study if there is much need for drying of wood or other large amounts of agricultural mass.
INCUBATION may be speeded by providing a warm growing area in a solar box cooker. Batches of yeast dough or yogurt are relatively simple. Incubation requires low steady temperatures comfortably warm to the hand, (105 to 115 F or 40.5 to 46 C). While solar cooking in an SBC usually cannot be done indoors, because of the low temperatures required an SBC being used as an incubator can be placed inside at a sunny window. A solar box used as an incubator may be smaller than a regular cooking SBC or a standard SBC may be used. Closed overnight, a warm SBC provides many extra hours at growing temperatures.
Incubation is easier to handle with additional mass. The mass to store heat may be jars of water, rocks, bricks or other heavy clean weight. For most purposes, the temperatures are raised to the top of the range and then allowed to fall slowly until another boost is needed. With experience, the glazing can be masked just sufficiently to provide the level of heat needed without overheating.
SPROUTING of seeds for food or garden is speeded by utilizing an SBC to provide a warm, protected growing area. Standard instructions for sprouting should be followed. Where water is contaminated, sprouted seeds and grains to be used for food can be rinsed with SBC pasteurized water. Jars and sprouting equipment can be pasteurized by SBC heat, using the same process as for dishes. Do not heat treat the seeds as this will kill them.
YEAST for bread dough thrives in a warmed SBC. The mixed dough can be placed in a warmed SBC for each rising period. Although additional mass and insulating cushions are not needed, their use provides more stable warming temperatures.
SBCs used as incubators should not SIMULTANEOUSLY BE USED FOR FOOD WARMING as food will spoil quickly at these temperatures. It has been established, however, that when SBCs are used for cooking, food passes quickly through the incubating temperature range and into levels where bacteria are killed.3
COLD BOX: A closed SBC can be used to retain cold for several hours. This may be useful when transporting frozen foods, or ice. Protect the cardboard from drip water. In some locations night temperatures drop sufficiently to cool water, rocks or other mass which can then be put in an SBC to hold food at lower temperatures during the day.
PREPARED FOODS: Canned foods may be heated in the opened can. Frozen foods and foods for microwave cooking can be cooked in SBCs but heat faster when placed in a dark pot or at least covered with a dark lid. Any foil and foam trays should be removed before heating.
PREPARATION OF INFANT FORMULA: Breast milk straight from the mother is usually by far the best and safest food for a baby. However, when an infant must be fed from a bottle, the substitute milk or formula may be mixed in the regular manner, then given terminal pasteurization in a preheated SBC. Glass nursing bottles filled with the prescribed fluid, closed with nipples and tops, can be placed under a dark cover or in a preheated dark pot with a lid in an SBC. Since riboflavin, an important B vitamin, is destroyed by light, milk and formula should not be exposed to direct sunlight. Water and juice bottles can be placed directly on the tray even while the family food is cooking. As soon as they finish the prescribed time period or begin to gently boil, bottles should be removed and cooled.
BOILING DIAPERS: Non-chemical treatment of diapers and other soiled cloths to eliminate urine odor and reduce diaper rash is simple with an SBC. Wash and rinse well, wring out most of the water, and place in an SBC in a dark pot with lid. Steam will form, penetrating the fabric and killing the odor-forming bacteria. Rinse again, then hang out to dry. A separate SBC is recommended for this use.
HOT COMPRESSES: Place two sets of compresses in solution in a dark pot in an SBC. When solution has reached comfortable temperature, use compresses in rotation so one is heating while the other is in use. When treatment is completed, bring pot to a boil to pasteurize for next use.
MEDICAL EQUIPMENT customarily processed by boiling can also successfully be treated in an SBC. Put approximately one-fourth inch (.6 cm) of water in a dark pot with dark lid, add equipment, place in focused SBC. When heavy steaming occurs, start timing the run. Glass, metal and enameled equipment is safe; plastic equipment may or may not be melted by the heat. It is best to run individual pieces of plastic equipment until it is established which can take the steam, plus some additional heat directly from the pot lid. Some plastic respiratory equipment may be safely pasteurized only if completely submersed in water, which provides a cooler temperature than the steam, but requires a lot longer time to process. In general, steaming is better than boiling because it penetrates better. Also a little water plus equipment requires less time to heat than a full pot of water plus equipment.
MEDICAL WASTESDECONTAMINATING: Soiled bandages and bedding, infectious body drainage, feces from intestinal diseases, and other infectious material may be placed directly in an SBC and thoroughly cooked to kill most infectious agents. How long it takes should be determined by specific circumstances. The SBC heat-treated materials will be disinfected although some heat-resistant spores may still be viable. A separate SBC is recommended for this use.
GARDENING: Potting soil can be pasteurized for greenhouses and special seedlings by placing moderately dry soil in a dark can or dark pot with a lid and heating until a thermometer in the center near the bottom is 150 F (65.5 C). Ceramic pots can be washed and placed directly on the bottom of the SBC. Manure can be pasteurized easiest if it is light and dry.
Pots of seedlings can be incubated in a warmed SBC with the lid ajar for ventilation and to prevent overheating. Extra mass helps stabilize the temperature. As they get larger, the lid can be left off during the day and closed at night to prevent chilling. The foiled SBC oven sides provide extra light without too much heat unless the glazing is in place.
DECRYSTALLIZING HONEY AND MELTING BEESWAX:
Jars of crystallized honey can be placed in an SBC and gently warmed until honey is melted. It is best to watch that honey does not overheat and brown. If the cook is to be away, honey jars can be placed in a pot of water in the SBC. This will assure they will not burn, but it takes much longer than just warming the honey jars. If a three-sided reflector is available, that also works well for decrystalizing honey, yet cannot burn it.
COSMETIC WAX used for removing hair and removing fine cactus spines can be heated in an SBC without danger of flaming. Test to be sure it is not too hot for the skin.
ANIMAL FOOD can be prepared of cooked mixed grains, perhaps initially used as an extender for the animals customary food, gradually shifting to predominantly solar cooked grains. Whole grains are standard animal foods and very inexpensive when purchased in raw, dry bulk form compared to commercial animal food. Flour mills and food cooperatives can be sources of bulk whole grains in quantities of 50 to 100 pounds. Dogs, cats and other animals need different amounts of fats and oils and other nutrients. Veterinarians or animal handling professionals can be approached for advice on the amount of oils and other non-grain components needed by a specific animal.
THE EXPANDING WORLD OF SOLAR BOX COOKERS
As indicated throughout this book, our effort is concentrated on spreading knowledge of the simple ways of building efficient solar box cookers out of local materials. This includes handcrafting and small, garage-type industry employing local labor and materials to produce for local markets. The goal is that the 1.5 billion people who were suffering from a firewood shortage in 1987, and those added to that figure since then, know how to build and use their own SBC if they choose.
This appears to be a large and potentially profitable market. However, most of these people have little or no cash. Furthermore, there are not enough resources and stability in any organization, government or private, to supply solar cookers to meet the overwhelming need over time. To try to do so would seriously distort the economies. If funds were diverted to meet this need, supplies of other basic necessities of life would have to be reduced. Also, taking profits out of the areas where solar cooking is most desperately needed into the export trade would be to further the disaster. Even on the level of handcraft, it may take an entire months income to get the limited supplies needed. Where the SBC is replacing the purchase of fuel, this is viewed as a bargain.
Mass production would, of course be cheaper, yet almost certainly would not place SBCs in the hands of the rural and poverty-level population on a sustained basis over the years throughout coming generations. The ability to build ones own SBC is a much more stable resource for the lowest economic levels.
Regular marketing is playing an increasing role in the SBC effort globally. There are several mass produced designs of solar box cookers currently on the market. SBCI, SBCN and others are also exploring this potential concentrating specifically on the design variations they want for teaching and technology transfer. It is important that any mass produced SBC be carefully tested to assure only good looking models that cook well are marketed. Otherwise, the market could be seriously set back.
Interestingly, in the years since the simple solar box cookers began to be taken seriously, they have predominantly been used by middle income, or artistic people in the U.S. and India. These are people willing and able to pay for what they see is desirable and this population to me represents an ethical marketing potential. Still,it is critical that the solar cooking field continue be built in sustainable ways whether an effort is targeted on handcraft or market production. And it is critical that many forces work together toward a growing acceptance of the technology.
In addition to our very active volunteer efforts aimed specifically at SBCs, other organizations with widely varying targets could help through making SBCs part of staff field equipment. They could provide training through their own staff, or through contracts with SBCI or SBCN. This could be done for budgetary reasons as a benefit to the organization or to the missionary as it would save on the costs of fuel for cooking and its transportation.
Perhaps more important, it is good public relations indicating members of the organization are serious about conserving the resources of the countries where they are serving. Use by NGOs and religious organizations would both add prestige to the SBCs and quickly expose the technology globally where it can be evaluated by local leaders. Where food is prepared for staff by local cooks, efforts can be made to encourage them to use the staff SBCs for a portion of their production.
Local community organizers and respected citizens who become familiar with the SBCs can reliably assess whether or not they would be valuable for their people. Political figures seeing SBCs working steadily over a period of time and understanding the value of substituting solar energy for vanishing fuel resources could lend their prestige to encourage acceptance.
We saw the effect of this combined approach at the first SBC workshop in Sierra Leone. Workshop leaders were told by the people, "We know of these stoves. We have seen the solar box cooker working before." They were eager to learn, knowing exactly what they were planning to do with the knowledge. Before the workshop was over, staff from the Institute for Agricultural Research in Njala had organized to "take solar box cookers to the families." It was several months before we discovered a Peace Corps worker had used and demonstrated an SBC showing her method of cooking her own meals as she moved around her assigned work. Among her observers had been members of the indigenous staff of the Institute who have a reputation for genuine concern for their people. When the Institute staff took SBCs into villages and demonstrated them, their people knew it was a legitimate and valuable effort. Follow-up at 14 months revealed SBC activity and usage in Sierra Leone is expanding rapidly. In many ways this was an ideal introduction and might serve as a pattern for other introductions.
Although the major organizations are valuable, meeting the need for SBCs is not totally dependent on successful official programs any more than on marketing ventures. It is not dependent on organized charitable or religious organizations. Any individual, acting alone or with others, can make a significant contribution to the spread of this technology. Many people on discovering SBCs not only use them for their own purposes; they immediately start an active effort to take their SBC around and show it to people who may be interested. This individual work is very valuable to the spread of SBC technology.
There is still a lot of potential market. A partial list of other marketing possibilities in addition to SBCs for routine cooking includes science education and home economics education kits, toys, lawn and poolside furniture, solar barbecues, equipment for developed campsites and picnic areas, garden equipment supplies, solar baby care units, as well as emergency equipment and supplies.
Vendor wagons could be manufactured and perhaps franchised. Restaurants might have solar hot bars on the patio particularly where Mexican and other southern food is featured. A gala solar flag could be flown whenever the solar bar was open.
While solar box cookers are often used simply for convenience and well-cooked tasty food, for recreation, and for environmental conservation within the United States, SBCs also can be used here to assist people in social stress. The stressed populations in the United States potentially served by SBCs include individuals and groups who have inadequate income or those who do not have electricity and/or gas utility service including people who are transient or homeless. Unemployed or marginally employed individuals having trouble meeting bills but with access to a sunny area can reduce their costs by using SBCs for cooking.
Some disabled or retired individuals on fixed income could benefit. In the West Sacramento Senior Center, Bill and Thelma Rogers for years have helped clients of the center build their own SBCs. At this time, their workshops are booked full for months ahead. On some Fridays, these SBCs are brought back for a solar potluck. One afternoon, 34 individuals had returned with their SBCs and set them to cooking in the yard. While the program was in progress, one person lounged in the door, keeping an eye on the whole array. In the cool interior of the building, tables were decorated with balloons and flowers to add to the festive meal while recipes were tasted and compared.
Energy assistance offices could include instructions on building and using solar box cookers in the energy classes currently given to help control utility costs. Nutrition programs could provide knowledge of how to build and use an SBC for nutritional and tasty, inexpensive meals. For food distribution purposes, the solar box cooker is a cookstove.
Anyone can be important. Anyone using a solar box cooker, particularly using it for routine daily cooking, is participating in the most basic part of the effort. As friends, companions and neighbors see a solar box cooker working, they ask questions and become informed on a primary level. Whether or not they proceed to obtain one themselves, they become part of the informed population needed for a smaller percentage to adopt this new technology. The more visible SBCs are, the faster the technology will spread.
Individuals alone or with friends set up demonstrations at fairs, rodeos, picnic areas, educational meetings, environmental meetings, church gatherings, in parks, in poverty neighborhoods, on the beach.... Some lend their SBCs for others to gain experience. Some take them as they travel in other countries. And all tell how they can be made and used through ones own efforts. Individual friends in numbers much too large to list have done this spontaneously and voluntarily. Their activities are so individual that we meet friends who tell us they have been using them for their household cooking as well as actively and devotedly showing their SBC over the years but never thought to write and tell us. There is simply no count of these numbers. We do know that we are encountering more and more Americans who have awareness of the effectiveness of SBCs, and perhaps have even used one at their home for a long time.
Some travelers are carrying a roll of foil and SBC literature with instructions how to build an SBC in their luggage. Some also carry a supply of food-safe baking bags for glazing. Part of their vacation is spent building and showing SBCs, using one, leaving one as guest gifts, etc. The efforts they have to go through to locate sources of recycled cardboard or appropriate siding, glue, glass or glazing, and so forth, not only introduces them to a number of potential friends, it proves unequivocally that materials are available in that place for others to make SBCs after they have gone. If there are problems with obtaining foil, sometimes an organization can be located that will have other volunteers as they come from the States bring a roll. Shipping into many areas does not get through and requires dealing with border problems not aroused by single rolls carried as personal baggage. The most economical source of large rolls of foil is either food catering businesses or the aluminum wholesale centers.
Use of SBCs in science classes and home economics classes in primary and secondary schools is another method of technology spread. Independently teachers in two Montessori schools, one in Sedona, Arizona, USA, and in one in Lesotho, South Africa, have had primary school children using SBCs to heat their lunches. In Sedona, the students first made their own wooden cooker and then began to use it on a regular basis several years ago. SBCs are often used for science projects. In El Paso over 400 SBCs were made in one year through the efforts of one individual working through the schools. In the Sacramento area, an SBC project resulted in 70 SBCs lined up outside a school one day...each student had decided to make one individually and take it home.
Small or remote public health facilities could reduce costs by providing staff lunches through using an SBC while simultaneously and continuously exhibiting the potential to people attending clinics. A separate SBC could be used to pasteurize equipment by boiling or steaming. And perhaps a third SBC to disinfect contaminated equipment and materials.
A new stage of technology diffusion is reached when someone asks how they can make an SBC, obtain an SBC, or where they can get help developing an outreach program, etc. At that point the choice arises whether to hand out literature, refer them to SBCI/SBCN, or to personally sponsor and hold a workshop. Both SBCI and SBCN will mail single copies of their newsletter on request. Very good literature to hand out is available in bulk. Materials including videos to assist workshop leaders are available. Personnel of SBCI are also prepared to work closely with any organization ready to explore integrating solar box cookers into their programs. All levels of involvement are valuable contributions to the effort.
In Zimbabwe, workshop leaders from SBCI found that based on the SBCI material obtained in advance, many SBCs had been made and were working prior to the workshop. Workshop leaders were able to build on considerable knowledge in the people they were training. Some workshops based solely on material mailed out by SBCN are being held in Ecuador. This established that the materials sent out by SBCI and SBCN, as well as Kerr-Cole Enterprises, are in fact crossing cultural barriers and resulting in local SBC production.
In Central America, at a workshop in El Progresso, Guatemala, leaders from Nicaragua also attended. One returned to Nicaragua where he was asked to train a group of community leaders from Honduras. The Hondurans returned to teach their own people. Also in Central America, at one time SBC volunteers were advised not to attempt to cross a certain military line as it would be too dangerous. But they were told that if a workshop were set up near the border, a group would come out and learn to make Estufa Solar. Asked why it was worth the danger involved, the reply was that their families were getting blown up by land mines while gathering firewood. SBCs would make their families safer.
There are endless opportunities until SBCs are as familiar as wood fires or campfires and can be used where needed. The goal of spreading knowledge of solar box cookers around the globe, is overwhelming. Yet by people working together, it is happening. Some translations have now been collected by SBCI. SBCI also has some language-free teaching materials. Sometimes they may already have a copy of a translation for a particular need or know where it can be obtained. It would be appreciated if, as new translations are done in the SBC field, a copy along with the specific language and dialect used and the area it is coming from, could be sent to SBCI for their file of translations.
Whether it is an organizational approach or a personal effort, all contribute to the spread of the technology. During the early years, the personal approach has dominated. This seems very fitting. For generations, new handicrafts have spread from people to people, through one person showing another a different homemade object. Often this has occurred through travelers. And through individuals trying for themselves how to make and use a way they see that would simplify their lives, or would add to their prestige, or in some desirable way meet their needs. We are less than 75 years in the United States into predominantly commercial production and marketing. In many places in the U.S. and in far greater numbers in some other parts of the world, traditions of handicraft, independent ways of meeting all ones needs have not been left behind, simply obscured by the dominant culture.
Grassroots technology transfer has been the major distribution system for the solar box cooker effort, in part because it has spontaneously, naturally occurred. This distribution tactic, simple and effective over generations, fits the simplicity of solar box cookers. It allows a single individual, alone, to take an effective part in the technology diffusion as well as providing simple action targets for organizations. It answers the widespread, indigenous, desperate need. It allows completely individual choice of solar cooking and encourages individuals with initiative to make and use one. It makes solar box cookers an empowering technology. This part of the effort is very valuable and will continue. But grassroots diffusion is slow compared to the pace made possible by modern organizations.
Around the world, 1.5 billion people suffered from a shortage of firewood in 1987 and the number was rising rapidly. These people are part of our target population. We do not need to reach every village; but solar box cookers need to be seen in use in many parts of an area for widespread technology transfer to take place. The value of solar box cookers is recognized locally where they are needed and appropriate. In addition, the value of solar cooking is recognized by major environmentalists. According to Lester Brown, Christopher Flavin and Sandra Postel of World Watch, one option for a sustainable future "is to turn directly to the sun, which most of the Third World has in abundancesolar ovens for cooking,...."
It has been calculated that if one person taught 20 people to make SBCs...and each of these taught 20 others...it would take only 7 "generations" to reach our initial turn-of-the-century target of 1.5 billion people informed about SBCs and knowledgeable enough to make one if need be. Of course, it does not proceed with mathematical precision, but the outreach is happening and seems to be gaining momentum. It is taking a long time. This process needs to be accelerated as much as possible so SBCs can be in use before complete exhaustion of firewood and dung gathering areas occurs.
Through marketing, through government, through private volunteer organizations, through churches and missions as well as overwhelmingly through individual efforts, solar box cooking has been quietly taking its place as one of the many tools for building an equitable, sustainable future where all have access to the means of meeting their basic needs and where the earth is treated gently.
In the expanding world of solar box cookers, the technology is mature. There is a depth of experience in the various uses. The literature is prepared. The basic SBC information and technology distribution organization is in place. Together with others who are working on the difficult environmental and human problems of these times, by consciously interweaving our efforts, we can all contribute toward building a sustainable future. Together, we have the power. Let us help you offer solar box cookers as part of the solution.
A SAMPLING OF WAYS TO BUILD CARDBOARD SBCs
This chapter and the one that follows provide the practical materiala selection of plans for various cardboard SBC designs and instructions on how to use an SBC. The four designs illustrate different basic approaches to making successful solar box cookers out of cardboard.
The SBCI/ECO Design is a good statement of the oldest cardboard SBCs and comes directly from the original patent work.
The Adaptable Strip Design provides a basic pattern for producing new sizes and shapes, or for fitting a given box with a matching unit to form an SBC.
Designs by Mark Aalfs and Tom Sponheim both focus on using a minimum of material and time to make a functional oven. These quick designs fill the need for rough and ready building of an SBC, quick and cheap.
Which of these designs would best serve depends on the configuration of cardboard available and the amount of care and finish one wants to put into the building of an SBC.
Extrapolation to other materials should maintain the basic components: relatively large flat top, well insulated box, dark elevated tray, adjustable reflective lid, etc. For details of alternatives see Chapter 4, Individual Design Elements. By studying these examples, the design of local variations in whatever material chosen will be made easier.
These plans may be duplicated and distributed freely. I hope they will serve you well.
AN ADJUSTABLE STRIP DESIGN
This design utilizes cardboard or other thin, semirigid materials. Strips can be cut by a cardboard manufacturer or made by hand from pieces of recycled material or alternative local material taped or otherwise held together at fold lines.(See accompanying diagrams.) This design may be assembled as a solid or a collapsible unit suitable for general cooking, pasteurization, school science projects, or teaching purposes. When in doubt, make it bigger and broader, but as shallow as possible. This adaptable strip pattern may be used to fit an SBC to an available piece of glass or a section of the pattern used to tailor an inner box for an available outer shell, etc. It can also be used to fit a small SBC into a larger one for compact storage. The pattern and working diagrams for this design start on Page 70.
Establish the size of the inner box: For example, if the glass available is 24" x 20" (60 x 50 cm) and glass will extend ¾ of an inch (approximately 2 cm) beyond the window opening, subtract ¾ x 2 = 1.5" (2 x 2 = 4 cm). The measurements for the inner box in this example are 22.5" x 18.5" (56 x 46 cm). The length of the strip is the circumference -- 82" (205 cm). Another example: If there are three pots customarily used for meals, place them with about 1" (2.5 cm) between them. Set the size of the inner box to allow 1" (2.5 cm) between pots and inner oven wall.
Arbitrarily 1.5" (3.75 cm) in this example. Deeper insulation, up to 3" (7.5. cm), is used in SBCs with glass glazing in order to provide more protection than is needed for sheet plastic glazing.
Establish the size of the outer box: Take the dimension of the inner box and add twice the depth of the insulating space to the width of each panel. In this example, Panel A is 22.5 plus (1.5 x 2) = 25.5" wide. Panel B is 18.5 plus (1.5 x 2) = 21.5" wide. Therefore, the size of the outer box in this example will be 25.5" x 21.5" (63.75 cm by 53.75 cm) The length of the strip is the circumference -- 94" (235 cm).
Establish the depth of the sides of the inner box: Find the height of the largest pot to be used. Add 1" (2.5 cm) for the depth of the inner box. For example, if the tallest pot is 5.5" (13.75 cm), the depth of sides of inner box will be 6.5" (16.25 cm). For best cooking, make the inner box as shallow as possible.
Establish the depth of the sides of the outer box: Take the dimensions of the inner box and add 1" (2.5 cm). For this example, 6.5" plus 1" = 7.5" (16.25 cm + 2.5 = 18.75 cm).
Establish the depths of the bottom flaps: The depth of each bottom flap is one half the width of the adjoining panel plus fold allowance of approximately ¼" (0.6 cm) for single strength and 3/8" (0.9 cm) for double strength cardboard. Optioncut oversize, fold the box and trim the bottom segments so they just meet in the middle of the bottom of the box. For a lighter SBC, the bottom flaps on the B panels may be eliminated if the bottom joint is solidly sealed when SBC is constructed.
Decide whether or not to use the 2" tab to join the ends of each strip depending on the material being used.
For precision work, establish the fold allowance needed for your material: Measure 10" or 20 centimeters. Fold at each line to right angles. Note the inner and outer dimensions of the folded material. Use this factor to calculate measurements where space is critical. Most SBC work does not require this precision.
WHAT YOU WILL NEED
Cardboard from several boxes including two large flat pieces. Sizes depend on the dimensions you have chosen. It is essential that the cardboard is clean, smell fresh and never have been used for storing toxic substances. The two flat pieces make the lid and the reflector. The lid piece must be at least 3" (7.45 cm) larger all around than the finished size of the outer box and the reflector piece must be at least 2" (5 cm) larger in all directions than the finished lid. If you plan on a cardboard tray instead of a metal one, you need a piece for that too. (Option: any locally available semi-rigid, non-toxic material which retains its shape when hot and does not give off an odor can be usedstiff cloth, basketry, mats, leather, construction siding, wood paneling. If metal is used, see Fig. 4 on page 26 for heat breaks.
Regular kitchen aluminum foilone 12" x 50 roll. To calculate, take 2 x the circumference of inner and outer boxes + twice the longest outer panel (width of the reflector) plus 10% = 82 + 94 x 2 = 352" or 29.3 plus 10% = 32.2.(205 + 235 x 2 = 880 cm + 10% = 924 cm).
One ½" thick stick, approximately 18" (45 cm) long (the diagonal of the inner box).
Two pieces of stout non-slippery cord or shoe lace, 12" (30 cm) long.
One flat piece of metal the size of the inner box bottom, or a large dark cookie sheet, unless you plan to use a piece of darkened cardboard. A metal tray makes a hotter SBC than cardboard.
A small portions of a can of "barbecue black, high temperature resistant" spray paint. Must be non-toxic when dry. Options: Black tempera paint or a mixture of soot and glue or other non-toxic, heat resistant, darkening agent.
About 10 (3 m) of duct tape. Option: Heavy cotton or wool cloth strips with heat-resistant, non-toxic glue or paste.
¾" masking tape, partial roll. Use of masking tape can be avoided by taking time for pieces to dry between construction steps.
Non-toxic, water-based white glue, 1 pint (0.5 l) Option: boiled white flour paste with sugar.
One Reynolds Oven Cooking Bag, large or turkey size. These are available in almost all supermarkets in the U.S. They are not UV resistant; thus they will become more brittle and opaque over time and may need to be replaced after some months. Plastic options include polyester, polyethylene or plexiglass clear plastic sheet, as well as temperature resistant nylon. Polyvinyl plastics should be avoided. Single strength window glass may be used instead of plastic. Single strength glass does not need to be tempered. If it cracks, it can often be held in place with plastic tape or silicon sealant.
TO ASSEMBLE AS A STANDARD SBC, use these instructions as written. For a collapsible model, or for teaching and solar science projects see the variations listed at the end. These instructions will assume the SBC is being made in cardboard.
Working cardboard: Do not step or kneel on the cardboard unnecessarily. First make light marks to indicate the measurements. Then, using a straight edge and a dull pencil slanted at about a 60 degree angle (to keep from puncturing the cardboard), draw straight, firm fold lines. Bend the cardboard at the lines pressing over the edge of a table to make clean folds.
Working foil: Pour a small stream of glue on the dull side. With a small wet piece of cloth, smear the glue completely over the surface. Press onto the cardboard with a second larger piece of wet cloth and rinse off excess glue. After the surface has dried, the final cloud of glue may be washed off with clean cloths and fresh water. Foil needs to be clean and bright to work best.
Using the measurements you have established above for the size of the boxes, prepare the inner and outer strips of pieces of sturdy material. Where necessary, seal joints on both sides with tape or cloth. (See Page 70)
insulating space between boxes, sides of boxes, bottom flaps. With a long straight edge, mark each row the full length of each strip with a blunt point sufficient to dent but not cut the cardboard. Bend the cardboard to loosen the folds. Do not mark and bend the collapsible fold unless planning for a collapsible model.
Cover the inside of each strip with kitchen weight foil glued on with diluted glue or paste.
With flaps extended and foil toward the inside, bring the ends of each strip together and secure by gluing or taping the end flap. Fold in and seal the bottom flaps of the inner box. (Diagram 2) Build pillars of 1" squares of cardboard the depth of the insulating space and glue them to the outside bottom of the inner box for support unless making a collapsible model. (Diagram 3)
To make the lid, turn the top flaps in on the outer box and place it upside down on the largest flat sheet of cardboard. (Diagram 4) Placing a pencil flat against the side of the box, draw the outer box outline on the flat sheet. Redraw with firm, straight lines. Measure out 3" (7.5 cm) and draw another set of lines. Trim to the outer line. Make one cut from the outer line to the inner line at each corner of the lid. Center the inner box upside down in the middle of the lid piece and draw its outline on the lid. (Diagram 5) Crease all the fold lines. Cut out the hole for the window. Fold down the edges to form a lip and bend the corner flaps around. (Diagram 6) Glue and tape the corners. Place the inner box inside the outer. Glue the top flaps of both boxes together unless making a collapsible. Turn upside down and weight to get good contact.
To make the reflector, place a long side of the lid on a straight edge of the cardboard. (Diagram 7) Working through the lid, mark that edge of the window. Draw an outline of the lid on the reflector piece. Measure 2" out and draw the cut line. Remove the lid and with a straight-edge, draw firm, straight lines through the edge mark and the outline. Bend the cardboard at the lines to make it flexible. This will form the hinge and start the turns for reinforcing the reflector.
Trim the overhanging cardboard to the 2" line. Trim the edges of only the narrow, hinge portion to fit the lid base. (Diagram 8) Fold the remaining 2" overhangs toward the outside of the reflector, cutting clearance at the corners so they lay flat and serve to reinforce edges of the reflector. Glue and tape.
Glaze the lid unless making a science project model. Plastic glazing would go on now. Depending on the size of your oven, either use an oven cooking bag whole, or cut it open. Working inside the lid, lay a strip of glue around the edge of the opening so there are no gaps where heat may escape. Lay the plastic over the opening and stretch it tightly holding with masking tape until glue sets. Masking tape alone will not hold the glazing when the oven gets hot. If better insulation is desired, attach a second piece of glazing on the other side of the cardboard using a narrow overlap of glazing where the reflector will attach so the reflector cardboard can adhere. If using glass, do not put it on now, but at the very last. See instructions near the end.
Paste foil smoothly on the reflector cardboard except for the hinge portion.
Centering the reflector on the basic lid, glue and tape the hinge solidly to the lid. If the assembly does not lay flat, weight it down until dry. (Diagram 9)
Working through the bottom flaps of the larger box, fill the insulation space with very loose non-toxic insulation such as crushed newspaper, rice hulls, loosely carded wool or quilt batting. With insulation, the air is as important as the fill so do not pack tightly. Close the bottom flaps of the outer box gluing shut for a permanent closure, taping shut with masking tape for temporary closure if the SBC is to be used for demonstrations or experiments. Options:
Demonstrators and collapsible boxes may also be closed with duct tape tabs. (Diagram 10)
Make the prop for the reflector. Cut the prop stick to the length of the diagonal of the inner oven so it can be stored in the oven. Midway along the side of the reflector and midway along the side of the lid, punch holes. Thread the cords through the holes and tie, leaving both ends free. These cords wrap around the prop several times and tie in a bow knot, holding the reflector in the necessary positions when the SBC is focussed.
To make a simple dark bottom tray, sheet metal may be formed into a tray by bending a lip up at half inch intervals with pliers. If cardboard is preferred over sheet metal, cut a piece of cardboard slightly smaller than the bottom of the interior of the oven and apply foil to one side. Paint the foiled side with non-toxic black paint and allow to dry. Put the darkened foiled cardboard in the oven (black side up) and place the pots on it when cooking. Whether using metal or cardboard, prepare four strips of cardboard ½" wide and two layers deep. Glue these in the bottom of the inner box on top of the foil to elevate the tray a bit above the bottom. (Diagram 3)
If using glass, place the glass inside the lid now. Seal the edges of the glass to the lid with silicon sealant keeping sealant off the surface of the glass. Foil the inner top of the lid covering the edge of the glass and the exposed cardboard. Insert the box oven assembly. Keeping the box pressing on the glass, turn the unit over. Seal the cut edges of the cardboard to the glass, working the sealant into the corrugations. An effective way to apply silicon sealant is to slant the cartridge at a 45 to 60 degree angle. Working near the operator, start a small bead of sealant. Push the tip smoothly forward, maintaining the small bead which is spread and pushed into crevices by the advancing tip. Smooth any irregularities with a moist finger.
Finish the outside with exterior grade house paint and/or contact paper. Prepare a matching carrying strap if desired. Heat empty for 2 hours in full sun to drive off any residual vapors. Your Solar Box Cooker is now complete. Use with standard Solar Box Cooking techniques.
PREPARING A COLLAPSIBLE MODEL
The depth of Panel B of the outer strip must not exceed the width of Panel A. Mark the collapsing folds with a firm heavy line.
1) Prepare as above, forming flexible joints by joining the panels together at the vertical cut/fold lines with flexible tape such as duct tape or cloth strips glued on with non-toxic, heat-resistant glue or wheat paste. Do this by placing two panels one on top of the other like a closed book and glue a strip over the joint to allow slack for the bend. Reverse the fold and glue a second strip over the outside of the joint. The strip can then be placed in the lid with alternating folds.
2) Instead of gluing the end flaps, secure them with temporary holds of masking tape or duct tape. (Diagram 10) One piece of duct tape goes on the primary holding surface. A second piece of duct tape with a small portion folded over to make a pull-tab is fastened on the adjoining part. A third small piece of tape goes on the opposite side of the cardboard under the pull-tab to provide a temporary holding surface for the duct tape when the SBC is collapsed.
3) The supports for the bottom may be triangular or square tubes of cardboard that can be opened to pack flat. The top flaps of the inner and outer boxes are left unsealed relying on the weight of the lid to press them together.
4) The package can be closed with a plain piece of cardboard cut to fit inside the lid. Optionally, it may be closed by making a three-sided water heater the size of the lid (Diagram 11)
5) It can all be kept inside a large, heavy duty plastic bag to protect from moisture or in any waterproof location.
6) A five or six foot one-inch cloth strap is useful to hold the package together and also to serve as a handle.
FOR TEACHING MODELS
1) The bottom flaps are temporarily secured as in the collapsible model so it can be repeatedly opened to discuss construction. Access through the bottom also allows for research projects on different insulating materials.
2) In addition, instead of attaching glazing to the lid, simple double thickness frames of overlapping cardboard are made for each different glazing. Each separate frame can be placed between the unglazed lid and the oven top, thus changing the glazing at will so the differences can be studied.
Science projects may investigate temperature variations with changes in insulation or glazing. Observations can be made on the position of the reflector required at different times of day or season. Differences in warming times may be related to mass. How long heat will be retained with and without closing the reflector over cooked food, as well as with a variety of pot insulations may be studied and graphed.
-- a TWO-BOX DESIGN by Joe On and Tom Sponheim
USING A SOLAR BOX COOKER
Face the SBC toward the sun until the shadow of the box falls directly behind. Move the reflective lid until the light falls on the bottom in the shadowed area filling the box with sunlight. Set the prop. SBC will begin to heat up. Food takes about twice as long to cook as in a conventional oven.
Place food in dark containers preferably with tight fitting dark lids. Good solar pots are Graniteware--, cast iron, amberware, or any vessel painted dark on the outside with non-toxic dark paint. Painted pots could be any kitchen pot or pan, or a food tin, or a glass jar, etc. For safety, jars should have a hole in the lid to release steam pressure.
The golden rule of solar box cooking is "Get it on earlyDont worry about overcooking." If you are leaving the SBC unattended for many hours, focus it ahead so temperature will peak an hour or so before you return. If done ahead of time, food will keep hot in the SBC without overcooking or drying out. Some cooks only tend their SBC three times a day. During breakfast cleanup, lunch is prepared and placed in the oven even before the sun is strong. The SBC is set for about 11 a.m. and not tended again until time to take out lunch. Long cooking foods may be put in at breakfast for the evening meal or the evening meal may be put in during lunch cleanup if easier to cook foods are being used.Use your favorite recipes. Casseroles, beans and grains need the usual amounts of water or slightly less. Vegetables and meats cook in their own juices without additional water. Green leafy vegetables cook fastest if both the SBC and the dry pot are preheated. Everything, even bread, cooks under a dark lid. Special foods such as bread, cakes, etc. go in after the SBC is preheated. Spaghetti, other pastas and gravies, retain good texture if the flour product is stirred with a small amount of oil and heated separately from the water. Combine water and flour/oil mixture for the final twenty minutes or so of cooking.
Oven temperatures naturally drop when the oven is opened and when cold food is put inside. Temperature recovers as the food heats up. Many people do not even use a thermometer.
EASY TO COOK FOODS:
MEDIUM TO COOK FOODS:
HARD TO COOK FOODS:
Timing varies with local conditions. It pays to do a trial run before any initial demonstration.
Approximately 20 to 30 minutes uncovered: NachosSpread the chips on a tray, cover with grated cheese. Additional trays of chips may be placed under the one with cheese in order to preheat. SchmoresPlace the white marshmallow on a graham cracker, cover with a slab of chocolate. Heat top cracker separately.
Approximately 30 to 45 minutes uncovered: Hot dogsPlace hot dogs on a tray separately from the buns. Buns are placed with the brown sides up. Cookiesparticularly dark ones like spice, chocolate, or chocolate chipcan be cooked with or without a lid. Light colored ones will be slower.
Ongoing bubbling with good smell: Bring food up to temperature well before the demonstration. Lid can be partially set to one side to reveal sizzling barbecue chicken, stew, simmering well seasoned bean pot, etc. White rice, particularly with pieces of carrot and pepper, is often cooked to accompany the meat for a festive meal. Expect to have to wipe the glazing periodically to remove condensing moisture if leaving the lids ajar. Food can be cooked in amberware so bubbling can be seen with the lid in place, or a small square of window pane glass can be used for a transparent lid.
INITIAL PACKING LIST FOR DEMONSTRATIONS:
Foods, pots, seasonings, hot pads, soft cloth for wiping glazing, implements for serving, napkins or small paper plates, litter bag, literature with weights in case of wind, personal care items such as a sun hat, sun screen, cool drinks or water, a chair, paper and pencil for notes and sharing addresses, etc.
Barbara Tobi, Carmichael, CA
In a greased 2-quart casserole, arrange one layer of potatoes. Dot with butter and sprinkle with some onion, salt and pepper. Make about 4 layers. Top with mushroom soup and milk. Cover and bake about 2 hours or until a fork goes through potatoes easily. Sprinkle grated cheese on before serving, leaving cover on for a few minutes to melt cheese.
Cut meat into 1 inch chunks. Add sliced onions, garlic, or whatever. Place in dark pot with lid. Bake in SBC for 3 to 5 hours. Thicken the gravy if desired by using a flour batter.
Put chicken pieceslegs, breasts, wingsin a single layer on a rack in the bottom of your dark pan. Spread barbecue sauce or picante sauce. Cover and bake for two or three hours.
Cook in a dark pot with a tight lid. If it is a semi-cloudy or winter day, bring to a boil before placing in preheated SBC. Otherwise, just put them in. Cook all day adding your usual seasoning about mid-afternoon or after beans are tender. Let cook until sun goes down.
GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE
Combine beans, soup, and ½ of onion rings in a roaster pan. Top with the remaining onion rings. Cover and bake 1 ½ hours.
CORN ON THE COB
Bake for 1 to 1 ½ hours. May be either baked in husk or huskless.
Place pieces of carrots, potatoes, celery, squash, mushroom, okra or other vegetable in bottom of pot. Add pot roast on top and season. Bake covered for 4 hours or more. Requires no water. Natural juices will remain highly flavored and blend well.
BAKED APPLES OR SQUASH
Core or cut into pieces. Place in a covered dark pan and cook for 1 ½ or 2 hours.
POTATOES, BEETS AND OTHER ROOT VEGETABLES
Cook in a covered pan for approximately 3 hours. Superb flavor.
Plan ¾ to 1 cup for each serving. Liquid may be water, vegetable or meat stock, or tomato juice. Add cut up pieces of either garden fresh, or solar dried vegetables and about 1 tablespoons of rice, barley, millet or other grain per serving. Cook 2 to 4 hours depending on volume and size of vegetables. Top with chopped greens, shredded cheese or oiled bread crumbs.
FROZEN OR MICROWAVEFOOD PACKAGES
These prepared foods need to be removed from their insulating covers and serving dishes. Place on a plate covered with a dark lid, or in a regular solar pot. Allow 1 to 1 ½ hours for frozen food, 1 hour for microwave dishes.
GOURMET MEALS FOR SINGLE PEOPLE
A full variety of foods can be prepared in small amounts in ½ pint jars in a dark pot or under a dark cloth. For rice and other grains allow 2 to 3 tablespoons of grain per serving. For beans allow 3 to 4 tablespoons per serving. Soak in advance. Season exactly as you like. For fresh greens and some vegetables completely fill the ½ pint for one small serving.
PASTEURIZATION OF WATER, MILK OR FORMULA
Several quarts of liquid may be pasteurized in a standard sized SBC on a good sunny day along with cooking one or two pots. Water or milk is heated to 150 F. Milk and formula should be processed either in a dark container or under a dark cloth to protect from vitamin loss. Formula is processed in glass nursing bottles, not plastic. The usual ring top and nipples may be used.
To keep food hot after sundown, cover the pots and tray with a blanket, insulating pads, or terry cloth towels. Close lid and reflector. If planning to hold food for several hours, place several bricks or heavy stones in the SBC after food has started to cook. Push these near the pots before covering with the insulation. Addition mass is particularly useful when cooking small amounts of food without sufficient mass in themselves to hold for long.