DIY Solar Oven

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Introduction: DIY Solar Oven

About: Hi, My name is Iris and I am from the Netherlands. I'm a Master Student in Mechanical Engineering and Systems & Control and am interested in sustainable technology but also in my hobbies among which are Jiu ...

This solar oven is made out of materials that are very easily available and not very expensive either. Most materials used to build this one were scrap materials. We use it in Hungary during summertime when the days are sunny and dry. Temperatures are usually 30-35 degrees Celsius, but for some food it will also work with lower temperatures. As long as it is sunny outside!

This is not the first solar oven we built. The first one was made out of cardboard and we have used it for about 4 summers. That one worked just as good as this one, only this one is somewhat more durable and even easier to use. I do not have any pictures of the construction of the oven, but I don't think that really matters. I'll explain how I built it and what materials I used but I think there's many ways to do this and I'll tell you what I think is important to make this thing work.

On a hot sunny day temperatures in this oven may reach 120 degrees Celcius. We have used the oven to cook many things, such as pasta, rice, pasta sauce, soup, sausages, chicken, vegetables, mince, muffins and more. It is convenient because it doesn't take much of an effort to cook your food this way. More important, of course, is that it is super cool to cook your food using only direct solar energy!

Please note, some pictures in this Instructable are those of the cardboard version. I don't have many pictures of the improved version yet and the cardboard version shows the principles just as well as the new one.

Step 1: A Well-insulating Box

One of the most important parts required to build this oven (if not the most important) is a box with great heat insulation. It doesn't need a lid (top). For this one we happened to have a styrofoam box that was originally used to transport Dry Ice, so that was very convenient. You can of course use another styrofoam box if you can find one, but if you cannot you can just get some styrofoam or other material from your local DIY to built a box from. What I think is important is that the box is not too high, because than it will be difficult to reflect the solar rays into the box, as your pots or pans will be at the bottom of it.

Step 2: An Outside Box

A styrofoam box will not be very firm, hence it is wise to built a box around it. For this one I used OSB plates that were left from the building of a shack (no idea what those plates are called in English. Anyway, just some kind of cheap 'wood', this stuff is actually quite water resistant) to built a nice firm box around it. I even gave it some handles on the side that came off an old kitchen cupboard to make it easier to move the whole thing. This one is always on grass but if it's not you could also consider adding wheels.

Step 3: A Glass Plate to Close the Insulating Box

To close the insulating box you'll need something that will let the light through. So I guess any kind of transparent plate will do the job. In this case I happened to have a poster frame that fit my styrofoam box really well. It doesn't need to be attached or anything, just lay it on top.

Step 4: Flaps

To make sure the solar rays are reflected into the box, you need flaps. The back flap is the most important one. The side flaps don't do so much but I think they're good for preventing convective heat flows that would carry heat away from your solar oven. The size of the back flap is not very important. In my case it is such that it exactly fits on top of the box when closed. This is large enough. The side flaps both go halfway when closing them, as can be seen in the images in the step of the outside box.

You'll also need something to function as a hinge. I took a rubber tube and cut it open, then nailed it to the box and the flaps as can be seen in the picture. This works quite well but there are many ways to do this of course. Furthermore you'll need something to keep the flaps at the right angle. I happened to have some of those things you use to keep your windows open available which I mounted to the box and the back flap as can also be seen in the pictures. This works really great and I liked it because it didn't require me to buy anything other to suit the purpose. The side flaps just lean to the sides of the back flap.

Step 5: Reflective Material

A wooden surface won't really reflect solar rays that well of course, so you'll have to add reflective material to your flaps. I just covered them in aluminum foil, which works great. Make sure you have the shiny side facing towards you. Aluminum foil does tend to rip very easily when touched, which could be reduced by using thicker aluminum foil or something else entirely. I have some silver-colored tape that is used under laminate flooring (to tape the isolation material beneath it) which I apply everywhere the aluminum foil gets damaged and I also use it to tape the different sheets of aluminum foil together, because the rolls are usually not broad enough to cover the flaps in one go.

Furthermore I covered the inside of the aluminum box with the insulating reflective stuff that is normally used behind radiators. This is to prevent your styrofoam box from melting, which actually happens due to radiating heat from the black pots and pans you'll be using. This stuff by itself is not enough so I recommend you put some mass in between, which is also good if you don't have material like this. For example a piece of plasterboard covered in aluminum foil will do the trick.

Now make sure you aim the back flap such that the light is reflected such that it falls onto your pot or pan or whatever you're trying to heat.

Step 6: Black Pots and Pans

To make sure the pot or pan you're cooking in absorbs as much of the heat in the oven as possible, make sure it is black. We also have a large black pan that does great and what we also use is one of those metal things in which you can make 12 muffins.

Just really make sure it is black and put a coaster underneath to prevent the hot pan from sinking into the bottom of your oven....

Step 7: Cooking Your Food

Now it is time to cook your food. Like said earlier, you can cook many things in this thing, just go and experiment with it, it's real fun.

Just to give you some examples, we cook our pasta and rice in this thing. You can do this even later in the day when it is no longer at its warmest. It will just take a little longer, but hey, no need to stay beside it and it won't boil over. We found that brown rice is difficult to cook in this oven because the outside won't soften that well. Your meat will do fine in this thing as will many sauces you try to make. Vegetables also cook well in this thing.

We've also used it to bake muffins. For these sort of things it is important that you start early such that it is in the oven when it is warmest outside, which is usually between 13:00 and 15:00, depending on where you live. The muffins need the high temperature to bake.

Now, all you have to do to cook your food is turn the solar oven a bit about every half an hour so it remains aimed at the sun. Maybe you could even create a system that automatically rotates the oven to go with the sun.... Also don't try to stir or turn your food every now and then, but don't take of the glass too often because you'll lose a lot of heat. Last, give it some time. I doesn't even take very long for your food to cook, but it doesn't go as fast as it does on the stove. The upside is that you don't have to do much about it, just remember to put it out there in time.

Step 8: Some Final Remarks

So now you know what I've used to build this solar oven. It can of course be even more extensive or, much simpler. As I said earlier, my first version was just a cardboard box from which I cut away one of the flaps. I covered the others with aluminum foil. The cardboard box also contained a styrofoam box just like this one and had a poster frame with glass plate on top. The flaps were held upright by sticks. You can see this version of the solar oven in some of the images. Just see what you can make without using too many new materials because it kind of opposes the general thought of durability.

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    57 Comments

    Have you had any fires with your cooker? Meaning, can the cooker become hot enough to incinerate itself? I live in a hot climate and would love to start doing solar cooking this year. Thanks for the instructable!

    Does it not only take sunlight to create energy on these devices?

    1 reply

    Yes, but a nice warm day also really helps. Say, on a nice sunny winter day this would be really hard because the sun is low and not as intense as it is in summer. It also depends on what you want to cook though. Some things do just fine at lower temperatures but then just take a little longer.

    Great idea ! but I wouldn't recommed to use foam in an oven due to toxic gases resulted from heated foam !! I think it is better to use wood or carboard instead of foam because we are talking about food for family or us !!

    1 reply

    Hi,

    and thanks, first of all.

    Also, I think it's great that you care about food safety and health and all. We all should. However, I believe that in this case there's no issue, really. Styrofoam is actually polystyrene, which is really different from it's monomere styrene. In short, styrofoam is actually save to cook food in, as long as you don't burn it, or heat it too much I believe (but that's somewhere over 200 C if I remember correctly, a temperature we don't even come close to!). Think for example about those styrofoam boxes you can get takeaway food in. To know the exact details, I suggest you google for yourself. I'm not saying styrofoam is the best stuff to heat your food in, but really it isn't really dangerous, especially not for those few times I use it. It's a holiday thing and I don't do this on a daily basis.

    Cheers :).

    Great Idea and thanks for the Instructable.

    1 reply

    Thanks and you're welcome :)

    Nice box cooker. The word in English you needed was Panels, the OSD panels, that make up the exterior box. The word plate can be used, but is odd sounding.

    But no matter the verbiage sit is a nice tutorial. Now make us some nice ethnic recipes from Hungry, or if you are not from there, just on holiday, from your country AND Hungarian!

    ciao

    1 reply

    Hi there. Thanks for the word 'Panels'. I try to write in English as good as I can but sometimes I don't choose the best translations. Now that you say it I notice 'Plate' sounds weird and that panel is better :).

    I'm not from Hungary myself, I am Dutch. I go to Hungary for summer holidays. I'll share one very simple recipe with you that we (me and my boyfriend) invented ourselves and in our opinion tastes great. What also makes it great is that it doesn't require you to add any spices like salt or whatever. It is a soup:

    you start by putting some bacon in the pot (the kind that is in cubes, not slices). Let it warm up a little and then also add sliced salami (or chorizo). In Hungary they have real good salami. Use a thin one such that you get small slices. When these have baked a little, you add a whole bunch of cut up tomato. No need to take away the skin or anything. Now you let it sit there for a long time and it will become soup. For the last half hour add some cut up pepper (or paprika or capsicum, depending on where you're from ;) ). Spicy or not depends on what you like. That's it! I don't have specific quantities but that doesn't really matter. You'll figure that out. This stuff tastes great :)

    Enjoy!

    I've been looking into solar cooking (I'm sure ex-chef DH will have some food safety issues with it) but it's nice to know I don't have to spend $2-300 on a solar oven. Btw, how long do different items take to cook in it?

    2 replies

    Hey!

    You most certainly shouldn't spend $2-300 on a solar oven, that is completely unnecessary. I've cooked pasta in 20 minutes to give an example. This does depend on the type of pasta and time of the day. It takes somewhat longer than regular cooking but not that long really. You can indeed see this as if it were a slow cooker, like mocinoz suggests

    If you treat it more like a slow cooker (box cookers like this achieve average temperatures around 150C-200C and good moisture retention) then you will get good results.

    Have you considered painting the inside of the box a flat black?

    2 replies

    Yes I have, as I mentioned earlier in my reply to Phantom_white which I have copied below:

    I have considered both making the inside of the box reflective or making it black. in the end I decided to go with reflective because I wanted as much of the heat as possible to be absorbed by my pots and pans and not by the box itself, partially also because styrofoam starts to melt somewhere above 100 °C, so I wanted to protect it. but you could definitely give it a try, maybe using something black that is easily removed again if it doesn't work like you intended.
    I measure temperature inside the box by pressing a thermometer that is normally used for meat through the styrofoam. be aware that you are then measuring the air temperature inside the box and not the temperature inside the pot or pan, which is probably higher. if you have a thermometer suitable to measure inside your pot or pan that would be great because in the end that's what you're interested in.

    Hope this answers your question :)

    Although there is still some debate on this, most people agree that they work better with reflective walls to direct the heat into the cook pots. This seems to be backed up by testing but the debate continues :)

    A heavy duty cardboard box inside another box with insulation between them also works well. I have been using one for many years with great results. I have even successfully cooked a slow cook lamb roast in mine complete with all the vegetables :)

    Glue the Aluminium foil to the walls and the reflectors with woodwork glue or spray adhesive. It works very well and, because the foil is bonded to the surface it is difficult to damage.

    1 reply

    Great ideas :). Maybe I'll use better glue in another version. In this case most of the glue were also leftovers :)

    Thanks for this presentation. I live in the high desert a place that get a lot of sunlight and very high temperatures often in what passes for winter here. I've thought about a solar oven especially for summer time when 100F is common. I may just gives this a try.

    2 replies

    Great! This should work for you. Just give it a try with some simple cardboard box, it really doesn't have to be that much! :)

    Cool! Do you have any pictures? :)