Washington, June 23 : A team of students from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in the US has made a portable solar cooker, designed especially for use in Tibet.
Solar cookers have mirrors made of two-inch-thick concrete and covered with a mosaic of small glass mirrors.
According to a report in the Tibetan Sun, the solar cookers used in Tibet are so heavy that it takes four people to move one, and they have a poorly engineered focus that sometimes lights fires, cooks food unevenly or even damages metal pots.
This problem was seen first hand by MIT student Scot Frank and Catlin Powers of Wellesley College, who visited Tibet two years ago.
The one thing they kept hearing from the villagers was that it would make a big difference to their lives if there was a solar cooker that was lightweight enough to be carried with them when they went off to spend the day tending their fields or their flocks.
The villagers also hoped for a solar cooker to be strong enough to stand up to the strong winds that howl across the Tibetan plateau, in spite of being lightweight.
A team of students from MIT and from Qinghai Normal University in Tibet's Amdo region ended up producing exactly that.
The lightweight dish they produced, inspired by Tibetan nomadic tents, is made of yak-wool canvas panels, supported by bamboo ribs, and faced with reflective mylar.
Easily disassembled and transported by one person, the cooker can then be quickly reassembled in the field and staked down solidly on the ground to resist the wind.
According to Frank, the solar cooker can be made for a cost of about 17 dollars, which is about the same price as the current heavy concrete model.
In addition, the cookers can be fitted with an extra attachment and used to heat homes, for an additional 26 dollars, comparable to the cost of the non-renewable-fuel stoves they presently use for heating.
The new cooker could find widespread application, not only in Tibet but in surrounding areas in China, India, Nepal, Bhutan and Pakistan, and potentially in similar high-altitude regions in South America as well.
In the fall, the students will begin testing their prototype in several villages, and make the design available to local factories for manufacture.