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Inventor turns cardboard boxes into eco-friendly oven

Why solar cooking
Solar cooking is the simplest, safest, most convenient way to cook food without consuming fuels or heating up the kitchen. Many people choose to solar cook forthese reasons. But for hundreds of millions of people around the world who cook over fires fueled by wood or dung, and who walk for miles to collect wood or spend much of their meager incomes on fuel, solar cooking is more than a choice — it is a blessing.

 For millions of people who lack access to safe drinking water and become sick or die each year from preventable waterborne illnesses, solar is a life-saving skill. The World Health Organization reports that in 23 countries 10% of deaths are due to just two environmental risk factors: unsafe water, including poor sanitation and hygiene; and indoor air pollution due to solid fuel use for cooking. There are numerous reasons to cook the natural way — with the sun.

Health and nutrition

  • Moderate cooking temperatures in simple solar cookers help preserve nutrients.
  • Those who otherwise could not afford the fuel to do so can cook nutritious foods — such as legumes and many whole grains — that require hours of cooking.
  • At times many families must trade scarce food for cooking fuels. Solar cooking can help them to keep more food and improve their nutrition.
  • Smoky cooking fires irritate lungs and eyes and can cause diseases. Solar cookers are smoke-free.
  • Smoke from cooking fires is a major cause of global warming and dimming.
  • Cooking fires are dangerous, especially for children, and can readily get out of control — causing damage to buildings, gardens, etc. Solar cookers are fire-free.
  • Millions of people routinely walk for miles to collect fuelwood for cooking. Burdensome fuel-gathering trips can cause injuries, and expose people to danger from animals and criminals. Solar cooking reduces these risks and burdens, and frees time for other activities.
  • With good sunlight, solar cookers can be used to cook food or pasteurize water during emergencies when other fuels and power sources may not be available.

Inventor turns cardboard boxes into eco-friendly oven

When Jon Bohmer sat down with his two little girls for a simple project they could work on together, he didn't realize they'd hit upon a solution to one of the world's biggest problems for just $5: A solar-powered oven.
solar cooking design

The ingeniously simple design uses two cardboard boxes, one inside the other, and an acrylic cover that lets in the sun's rays and traps them.

Black paint on the inner box, and silver foil on the outer one, help concentrate the heat. The trapped rays make the inside hot enough to cook casseroles, bake bread and boil water.

What the box also does is eliminate the need in developing countries for rural residents to cut down trees for firewood. About 3 billion people around the world do so, adding to deforestation and, in turn, global warming.

By allowing users to boil water, the simple device could also potentially save the millions of children who die from drinking unclean water.

Bohmer's invention on Thursday won the FT Climate Change Challenge, which sought to find and publicize the most innovative and practical solution to climate change.

"A lot of scientists are working on ways to send people to Mars. I was looking for something a little more grassroots, a little simpler," Bohmer said Thursday.

Bohmer's contest win notwithstanding, solar cooking with a cardboard oven isn't new. Two American women, Barbara Kerr and Sherry Cole, were the solar box cooker's first serious promoters in the 1970s. They and others joined forces to create the non-profit Solar Cookers International -- originally called Solar Box Cookers International -- in 1987.

Further, the organization's executive director, Patrick Widner, said that the plans for a solar box cooker were found in a book published by the Peace Corps in the 1960s.

"We are pleased that Mr. Bohmer has taken up the cause and interest of the 95 member organizations and 160 individuals of the Solar Cookers Worldwide Network," Widner said. "It would be a pleasure to work with Mr. Bohmer in Kenya where we have been promoting the use of solar cookers for ten years."

Bohmer, a Norwegian-born entrepreneur based in Kenya, said he also had been looking at solutions "way too complex, for way too long."

"This took me about a weekend, and it worked on the first try," Bohmer said. "It's mind-boggling how simple it is."

The contest was organized by the Forum for the Future -- a sustainable development charity -- and the Financial Times newspaper. Among the judges were British business magnate Richard Branson and environmentalist Rajendra Pachauri. The public also voted on the finalists.

Bohmer's invention beat about 300 other entries, including a machine that turns wood and other organic material into charcoal, wheel covers that make trucks more fuel efficient by reducing drag, and a feed supplement for livestock that reduces the methane they emit by 15 percent.

Bohmer named his invention the Kyoto Box, after the international environmental treaty to reduce global warming.

The box can be produced in existing cardboard factories. It has gone into production in a factory in Nairobi, Kenya, that can churn out about 2.5 million boxes a month.

Bohmer has also designed a more durable version, made from recycled plastic, which can be produced just as cheaply.

He envisions such cardboard ovens being distributed throughout rural Africa.

"In the West, we cook with electricity, so it's easy to ignore this problem," he said. "But half the world's population is still living in a stone age. The only way for them to cook is to make a fire.

"I don't want to see another 80-year-old woman carrying 20 kilos of firewood on her back. Maybe we don't have to."

Solar Cookers International (SCI) spreads solar cooking awareness and skills worldwide, particularly in areas with plentiful sunshine and diminishing sources of cooking fuel. Since its founding in 1987, SCI has enabled 30,000 families in Africa to cook with the sun's energy, freeing women and children from the burdens of gathering firewood and carrying it for miles. Tens of thousands of individuals and organizations — from all over the world — have learned about solar cooking through SCI’s excellent publications and education resources, and have benefited from SCI’s information exchange networks, research, technical support, and the SCI-sponsored, internationally recognized Internet resource for solar cooking information: the Solar Cooking Archive.


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