German's solar ovens make sunbaked tortillas in Mexico

Dec 05, 2012 by Pierre-Marc Rene
German Gregor Schappers shows a bread oven heated with solar energy at his home in El Sauz, Hidalgo state, Mexico, in November 2012. Schapers designed and installed giant circular solar panels in the small town of El Sauz to show that the sun's rays can cook up a storm.

Under a blazing sun in Mexico's central mountain range, a clutch of large dish-shaped solar panels suck up the light and beam the heat into a kitchen, cooking tortillas.

Forget coal, gas or electric ovens. German entrepreneur Gregor Schapers designed and installed giant circular solar panels in the small town of El Sauz to show that the sun's rays can cook up a storm too.

Schapers, who has lived in this town 180 kilometers (110 miles) north of Mexico City since 2003, hopes that this environmentally-friendly solar cooker can ultimately slash in Mexico's poor rural communities.

"You can cook for a group of up to 60 people per reflector," Schapers told AFP, wearing a checkered shirt, sunglasses and a wide straw hat under a clear sky in the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range.

He adapted solar energy-harnessing technology created by the Austrian Wolfgang Scheffler.

But the parts for his oversize solar cooker were all built in Mexico, by the company he founded, Trinysol.

"It's good for social and economic development in rural communities," he said of his cooker and the business of building it.

The glass and aluminum panels are either 10-square-meters or (107-square-foot) or 16-square-meters (170-square-foot) in size. Some are placed at a 45-degree angle while others rest almost horizontal, facing the sky.

The reflectors can generate temperatures hotter than 1,020 degrees Celsius (1,868 degrees Fahrenheit).

Once the powerful heat reaches the cooker, it is shared between a cauldron, a griddle to make tortillas, and an oven. The solar panels can be used in restaurants or bakeries.

The solar cooker system is costly to build, between $4,000 and $5,000 depending on size. But once it's set up, it produces free energy, Schapers said. Each reflector saves the equivalent of 60 liters (16 gallons) of gas each month.

And the oven is environmentally-friendly, using renewable energy and creating zero .

Schapers said his design makes some significant improvements over other existing models.

"The beauty of our system is that one can cook directly in the house," he explained. Other solar ovens require a cook to brave the outside elements.

Like sunflowers, his automatically turn toward the sun with the help of a light sensor.

In addition to heat, the solar reflectors can produce steam and Schapers is testing three other uses for his giant panels: a greenhouse project; honey production; and a system for steam baths.

"At first people here in the region were very skeptical about the usefulness of my project," Schapers said.

But he said the finished product has won them over.

"Once they saw the facilities and what we can do with these reflectors, they realized that they work."

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User comments : 6

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Lurker2358
1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2012
Something this scale would actually make a lot of sense as a commercial cooker, or at the very least a supplemental heating system for reducing the total cost from other energy sources.

What to do with all that energy when you don't need it is a silly question, but I guess they cover the thing up when it's not being used.
Eikka
not rated yet Dec 05, 2012
16 gallons of gas represents 533 kWh of electricity, which costs around 59 dollars at 11 cents per kWh. The payback period is 7 years. Not too unreasonable.

Heat can also drive absorption type refridgerators, so you can kill two birds with the same stone, or cook your tortilla and make ice for your michelada.
dankgus
not rated yet Dec 05, 2012
My apologies for possibly sounding negative. How many hours a day can you cook and how many hours is the system completely useless? What about days with low levels of sunlight? How many months out of the year can the system be used?

This might be useful in very specific locations for very specific purposes but the more I think about it, the smaller the list of real applications becomes.

--Dan
Eikka
4 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2012
How many hours a day can you cook and how many hours is the system completely useless?


Put a bunch of stones inside the oven and once it gets hot, it stays hot for days, assuming they had the foresight of insulating the box.
antialias_physorg
4 / 5 (1) Dec 05, 2012
How many hours a day can you cook and how many hours is the system completely useless?

If you don't have to cook at night then that's not a big issue. Mexico has about 300-320 sunny days per year.
Having such a system doesn't mean you should get rid of your gas cooker - it just means you'll hardly ever use it (i.e. it'll last you longer and/or you can buy a cheap model just for 'emergencies') .
dschlink
not rated yet Dec 09, 2012
Solar heat systems tend to do much better than you'd expect. I retrofitted a air collector to a house in Tucson, AZ. It was at the wrong angle because it rested directly on the existing roof, faced the wrong direction and was 1/3 the size that modeling recommended. Still it managed to cut the gas bill by 90%. Not shooting for 100% made a huge difference in the break-even.