A Cheap Solar-Powered Oven That Bakes Bread Without Pollution

It could replace unhealthy wood or coal fuels still widely in use in the developing world.

Millions of people in the developing world still use wood and coal for cooking. That’s far from ideal: The fuels tend to be arduous to collect or relatively expensive. They produce fumes that cause health problems. And, they’re not sustainable: using wood contributes to deforestation.


This ingenious solar oven, designed by four students from the U.K., aims to do away with all that. It consists of a 16 foot parabolic dish that collects solar energy and directs it to a cooking box. “It’s a like a greenhouse,” says one student, Keno Mario-Ghae. “We have glass around the outside, then a box in the center. That allows us to get the heat in and get it nice and hot, but not let the heat leave.”

Best of all, the dish is mounted on a wooden platform, allowing it to track the sun. There are two tubes of water at either side. One acts as a counterbalance, while the other leaks at a uniform rate, letting the dish tilt at about 15 degrees an hour.

In tests, the box reached more up to 400 degrees Fahrenheit in about 45 minutes, Mario-Ghae says. That was enough to cook some bread rolls in about an hour. See more in this video:

The project aims to keep costs down by using local materials, like old oil-drums. The whole device shouldn’t cost more than about $350 dollars, Mario-Ghae says. There are already sun ovens on the market (like this one). But they cost thousands of dollars once they’re imported to developing countries, meaning they might need to be subsidized by charity. “There are a lot of costs you don’t have to deal with if you’re building it in the country where it’s needed,” he says.

The students recently finished the third year of a manufacturing engineering degree at Cambridge University. They now hope to develop further prototypes, and perhaps help people make their own versions of the stove. The design is an entry in this year’s Dyson Awards, which closes for entries August 7.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.