We’ve all heard of pavements hot enough to fry an egg on, but are there more reliable uses of sunlight to provide an alternative cooking source?
Using cleaner and more efficient energy is a hot topic all over the world. Many people in the West will buy more efficient cookers for example, as a way to save money and reduce their effect on the environment. But for many in developing economies the choice of cooking systems is not only a drain on energy resources but can be a matter of life and death.
A high percentage of domestic energy demand in developing economies is created by cooking with fossil and biomass fuels. The use of biomass as a primary cooking fuel by 2.7 billion people - mainly in Asia and sub Saharan Africa - can affect deforestation rates, greenhouse emissions and can cause serious health problems related to indoor air pollution.
Cleaner cooking systems have been developed and promoted in the last 25 years to combat these health issues, for example solar cooking and smokeless stoves, with varying degrees of success. Another potential source of safer and cleaner cooking energy is solar electrolytic hydrogen systems which can also be used to provide heat and fuel automobiles. This is the process by which solar power can be used to create the electricity needed to extract hydrogen from water. The hydrogen can then be used as a clean cooking fuel.
Researchers at the Centre for Sustainable Energy Use in Food Chains have developed and tested a small solar hydrogen plant suitable for small communities. The kit is made up of solar panels, an electrolyser and hydrogen storage cylinders suitable for household distribution.
The CSEF team then carried out case studies in Ghana, Indonesia and Jamaica in communities of 20 households where they trialled the solar hydrogen cooking. Their findings indicated that 10 tonnes of CO2 per year per household could be saved by replacing biomass fuel with hydrogen. Further analysis of the Jamaican case study compared the results with current cooking fuel and projected different future scenarios. A physical trial plant was developed in Jamaica by collaborators from UTech, Jamaica.
Project lead Professor Maria Kolokotroni of Brunel University London said: “This exciting project developed a high tech but simple in operation plant to generate hydrogen for direct combustion applications such as cooking using local resources (sun and water). Safety of storage and combustion (through a modified gas cooker) were critical issues addressed by UTech and Brunel funded by a EuropeAid grant.”
Project Researcher at Brunel University London Dr Evangelia Topriska (now Assistant Professor at Heriot-Watt University, Dubai Campus) adds: “With the increase in casualties from poor indoor air quality in developing economies, it was important that this research addressed the fundamental societal need of safe, clean and independent energy provision, through the scope of sustainability. Our focus was state-of-the-art solar powered hydrogen systems and this project has resulted in practical and achievable suggestions that can improve the daily lives and health of people in developing economies.”
So it looks as though these small solar hydrogen plants could potentially offer cleaner, healthier and more sustainable alternative cooking fuel for communities in the developing world and elsewhere. And the technology is powered by the abundantly available resource of sunlight. Researchers like the CSEF team are developing the technology and rigorously testing its effects in the real world as they hope to contribute to global efforts toward safer, cleaner energy.
The Centre for Sustainable Energy in Food Chains is a collaboration between Brunel, Birmingham and Manchester Universities and is funded by the Research Councils UK Energy Programme with industrial partner support. http://www.foodenergy.org.uk/
CSEF is one of six RCUK End Use Energy Demand (EUED) Centres. www.eueduk.com
Further reading: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0960148116303627