Cooking food outside is a common way to prepare a meal in many parts of the world. Around 55% of the people who live in sub-Saharan Africa cook with firewood, which results in smoke inhalation, and deforestation of areas around the continent.
Professor David Wilson, who taught at MIT, was in Nigeria for some time. Seeing the way the people were cooking and observing the respiratory issues that resulted, he felt there must be a way to cook outside using the power of the sun, but not only while the sun was shining, but to store up the sun’s radiation to use for heating food later.
This led to the forming of a team of MIT students which included Derek Allen Ham, Eric Uva, and Theodora Vardouli. This team studied the idea of the solar grill and surveyed for interest and to create a business plan for both manufacturing the grill and distributing it. This was necessary due to the necessary costs of the grill as opposed to the firewood that is currently used, which is free.
The team was created in 2011, and the grill has a photo prototype but does not yet have a physical prototype. While development and study is still ongoing, this grill is not yet available for purchase. There is a possibility of a hybrid version made for the United States that combines the solar option with a propane option.
The Wilson Solar Grill is meant to capture the solar energy and store it through melting a lithium nitrate substrate into a container that is well insulated, which becomes a battery. Once it has gathered the energy, it will hold this energy and cook with convection for up to 25 hours (at up to 200 degrees Celsius), even when the sun is not out.
The technology includes a Fresnel lens that focuses the sunlight onto a molten-salt thermal battery which will retain the heat. Once the sun is gone, the lens is covered, and the salts stay hot for up to six hours. To begin cooking, all that is required is to open the grill and place food on it. The students created a video of the concept in April 2013. The most recent information on the grill is from September 2016, when it was discovered that cast iron is not an appropriate material to enclose the lithium nitrate, as it corrodes, and that copper is most likely the best option. Professor Wilson, who is retired, is still working on the concept.
Other solar cookers using a Fresnel lens have been created. The Fresnel lens is used for many of these because it allows a smaller lens to be used to provide the same amount of sunlight power as a larger one, by using the parabolic concepts in smaller sections.
There have been groups that have worked on similar projects, and one group from MIT, in 2008, developed a prototype and set up a business for when they are ready to sell their invention. Their iteration of this device is powered by a mirrored dish that is twelve feet wide, assembled with aluminum tubing, focuses the sunlight at a concentration of 1000, with heat that is intense enough to melt a steel bar. The intention of this is to create energy by making steam from water, which energy can then be used for a variety of other purposes, including cooking food. There have been several solar cookers based on this model.
Parabolic Solar Cookers
This parabolic solar cooker reaches intense heat levels six or seven times faster than a standard charcoal grill. Its reflectors can be adjusted to adjust the temperature. Regardless of air temperature, this solar cooker will work as long as the sun is visible.
This parabolic solar oven is portable, and the very first solar and electric oven to function as one offgrid. Meals can be cooked in as little as fifteen minutes, depending on the amount of available sunlight and the quantity of food being cooked.
Rotatable to always point toward the sun, this array focuses the sun’s radiation at a specific point where a pot or kettle can be placed for quick heating.
Perfect for backpacking, this small two-pound portable solar cooker can be set up anywhere there is sunshine to cook a meal in 20 minutes in full sunlight. Even less sun will still result in cooked food, though it may take longer. If cooking meat, it is wise to use a meat thermometer to verify doneness.
Parabolic reflection brings this solar cooker to kitchen-oven temperatures much faster than a charcoal grill would reach the same temperature. Cook a great meal with no smoke, no soot, no ash, just solar heating.
While there is not yet such a thing as a Wilson Solar Grill for outdoor cooking, and nobody knows yet the Wilson Solar Grill cost, it is still possible to get a solar grill that will sufficiently cook food, though none at the moment have the latent energy reserves that are part of the Wilson Solar Grill concept.