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Pizza Box Solar Ovens

Justin Swanson Science Class, Language Arts Class, Grade 6 November 13, 2012 Mrs. Mann and Miss Amanda Reding

Table of Contents

Statement of Purpose Hypothesis Research Materials Procedure Observations and Results Conclusion Bibliography Acknowledgements

3 3 4 7 8 10 12 13 14

Statement of Purpose

The purpose of this experiment is to find out how reflector panels affect the internal temperature of a solar oven. I am curious to see how solar ovens work. What I learn can help people make more useful solar ovens.


My hypothesis is that adding reflector panels to a solar oven will increase the internal temperature, because more sunlight will be bounced into the solar oven. More sunlight should mean more heat.


Solar ovens are quite easy to build out of pizza boxes. The materials you need are a pizza box, aluminum foil, glue, tape, black paper, plastic wrap, scissors and a ruler. You start with the pizza box and glue the foil, shiny-side up, on all the inside surfaces. You cut a flap for a reflector in the lid and cover it with foil, too. Then line the bottom of the box with black construction paper and tape or glue it down. Next, cover the opening under the flap with plastic wrap and seal the edges with clear tape. Seal any other leaks or cracks with tape, too, but make sure you can still open the box. To use the oven, place it on a flat level surface in the sun and adjust the flap to reflect the sun into the box. For best results, do this on a sunny day between 9 A.M. and 3 P.M., when the sun is highest in the sky. (Brunelle, 2007)

Its easy to make and use a solar oven from a pizza box. The instructions in this article are very similar to the ones listed above, except this one suggests insulating around the cooking area inside the pizza box by adding rolled-up sheets of newspaper. These solar ovens can be called collector boxes because they collect sunlight inside. They can reach 200F on a sunny day. They are easy to use but cooking takes longer than a conventional oven, the solar oven may need to be moved or adjusted to keep it in the sun, and liquids should be stirred and sold food rotated periodically. (Home Science Tools, 2012)

5 Solar ovens use two passive solar design principles: solar gain and insulation. Solar gain is simply arranging for sunlight to enter a device as a source of energy. It happens when the sun enters the top of the oven and when the dark surface inside soaks up the energy. Insulation is containing heat energy by trapping the hot air inside. Insulation in a solar oven could be crumpled paper, or an extra layer around it that has air in between. If you use the sun to cook, you can save a lot on fuel. You can build many different kinds of solar ovens, but even ones with simple materials can work well and get up to 200F on a warm sunny day. Cooking takes a lot longer, and you may have to adjust the oven as the sun changes position. (New Mexico Solar Energy Association, 2004)

Each minute, the earth receives enough solar energy to supply all our energy demands for a year. Solar energy is a renewable energy source, along with hydro, wind, geothermal, and biomass. Photovoltaics are devices that convert solar to electrical energy. Theyre expensive and inefficient. If they could be improved, it would be great for our energy situation. (Levyssohn-Silva, 2007)

Solar cookers capture the suns energy to cook food or boil water. There are many different ways to build them, but three main types: box cookers, panel cookers, and high-temperature reflector cookers. A box cooker, like our pizza box oven, is basically an insulated box within a box that has a window in the top and a hinged lid to reflect the sun. It can be made of metal, wood, plastic, or cardboard. Even a simple cardboard box cooker can reach 200-300F. This is

6 the most common type of solar cooker. There are several benefits of solar cooking: it saves money, it is kind to the environment, it is safe for kids, it is portable, and its easy and fun. (Anderson and Palkovic, 2006)

Solar cooking has been around for a long time. The first person to do scientific experiments with collecting solar energy was Horace de Saussure, a French-Swiss naturalist who lived in the 18th century. He wondered why no one had done experiments on how hot a container with a glass lid could get, so he did them himself. First, he set up a black table with 5 glass boxes on it, nested inside each other from largest to smallest. After this was in the sun for several hours, he measured the temperatures in the boxes. The outside box was coolest, but the innermost one had reached 189.5F. He didnt understand how the glass traps the heat of the sun, but he did figure out that if he insulated his glass box, it would get even hotter. He built boxes of wood and insulated them with black cork or wool packing. He was able to get temperatures that were above the boiling point of water. De Saussure used the information from his experiments to figure out why its colder up in the mountainsthat the atmosphere traps heat just like his glass box, and when the air is less dense at high altitudes, it cant hold the heat as well. His experiments led the way for other experiments in solar energy and were a prototype for later devices to collect solar energy. (Butti and Perlin, 1980)


3 boxes from Costco take-and-bake pizzas Boxes are 16.5 inches square and 1.5 inches deep They have a circle cut in the center of the top thats 12.5 inches in diameter and covered with plastic 9 sheets black construction paper (standard 9 x 12 inches) Masking tape (as needed, to secure foil and paper) About 50 inches clear packaging tape About 18 feet of aluminum foil (12 inches wide) note: heavy-duty foil worked better 3 16x16 cardboard squares (the inserts the pizza was on) 3 food thermometers Scissors Paper, pen Kitchen timer Level surface in the sun to set solar ovens on

1. Build 3 identical solar ovens. a. Line inside of pizza box, except over the window in the lid, with aluminum foil (attach with masking tape as needed). b. Line bottom of pizza box with black paper (attach with masking tape). c. Cover edges of pizza box with clear packaging tape to secure everything. 2. Make reflector panels. a. Cover one side of each cardboard square with aluminum foil (secure with masking tape). b. Attach one panel to solar oven #2. Wedge it between the lid and bottom of the box on one side, and bend it enough that it angles over the top of the box. The foil side should be facing the box. c. Attach 2 panels to solar oven #3. Wedge them between the lid and bottom of the box on opposite sides. The foil sides should be facing the box. We left them standing pretty much straight up and down. 3. Measure the air temperature with the food thermometers. 4. Record air (starting) temperature and weather conditions. 5. Place one thermometer in each box, arranging it so that the sensing tip is not touching the bottom of the box but is measuring the air temperature. (Ours came with a holder that could prop it up.)

9 6. Put ovens outside in the sun side by side, in a place thats sheltered from the wind. a. Adjust reflector panels to catch the sun. b. Use a small piece of masking tape to ensure that the lid stays closed. 7. Set timer for one hour. 8. Record internal temperature of each oven after one hour. 9. Open ovens to cool back to same starting temperature. 10. 11. Repeat steps 3-9 at different times on different days. Compare results.


Observations and Results

Trial 1: October 15, 10:40 A.M. ~results discarded due to errors in measuring temperatures (still figuring procedures out) Trial 2: October 15, 11:40 A.M. ~results discarded because oven boxes popped open partway through.

Trial 3: October 15, 1:05 P.M. Weather: Sunny, 66F Ending temps: Oven 1, 102. Oven 2, 110. Oven 3, 102.

Trial 4: October 15, 2:15 P.M. Weather: Partly cloudy, 66F Ending temps: Oven 1, 85. Oven 2, 85. Oven 3, 78. ~started sunny, but then clouds came over and oven temps dropped dramatically.

Trial 5: October 16, 11:35 A.M. Weather: Mostly sunny, 63F. Ending temps: Oven 1, 102. Oven 2, 135. Oven 3, 104.

Trial 6: October 16, 1:45 P.M. Weather: Sunny, 70F. Ending temps: Oven 1, 100. Oven 2, 108. Oven 3, 95.

11 Temperature Increase After One Hour Trial # 3 4 5 6 Oven 1 36 19 39 30 Oven 2 44 19 72 38 Oven 3 36 12 41 25

Average temperature increase over four trials: Oven 1 (no panels): 31 Oven 2 (1 panel): 43.25 Oven 3 (2 panels): 28.5

Temperature difference for each of four trials, plus average temperature increase:

80 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 Trial 3 Trial 4 Trial 5 Trial 6 Av erag e Ov en 1 Ov en 2 Ov en 3


The hypothesis was partly right. Adding one reflector panel did increase the internal temperature of the solar oven. However, adding two panels, at least according to this design, resulted in temperatures that were lower than using none at all.

If I were doing this experiment again, I would use a different design for multiple panels on my solar oven.


Anderson, L., & Palkovic, R. (2006). Cooking with sunshine. (pp. xi-xvi). Marlowe & Co. Brunelle, L. (2007). Camp out! the ultimate kids' guide. (pp. 83-84). Workman Publishing Co. Butti, K., & Perlin, J. (1980). Golden thread: 2500 years of solar architecture and technology. Cheshire Books. DOI: Home Science Tools. (2012). Build a solar oven. Retrieved from Levyssohn-Silva, C. (2007). Teacher's preparatory guide. lesson 1: building simple solar ovens and testing thermal energy. Retrieved from New Mexico Solar Energy Association. (2004). Make a pizza box solar oven. Retrieved from



I would like to thank Daniel Swanson for helping me with the research, and my parents for helping me build the solar ovens (and for buying the pizza).