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Parabolic Solar Cookers
Campus Center for Appropriate Technology
Humboldt State University
Arcata, Ca 95521 phone: 707-826-3551

Learn about
Why Cook with the Sun?
parabolic solar By Jennifer
cookers and Edited by Bart Orlando and Krystal Rogers
box ovens:
The sun sustains life on to build large fires in order
earth; it is available to to purify water. Solar
• Advantages of everyone daily. There is cookers distill water
cooking with no cost for solar radiation. cheaply by using the sun’s
solar energy. Using parabolic, box, or rays to heat a pot of
panel cookers means no water. They can be a cost
_ Average
gas or electricity costs. effective solution for those
cooking dishes are allowed to
temperatures They are easy to maintain that may otherwise have
and just as easy to build. no resource to purify their blend and cook in their
With a little planning and drinking water. Solar own juices, the food
• How to build
one yourself. some basic mathematical cookers are also easily retains its nutrients. No
calculations, anyone can transported to remote vitamins or minerals are
• Mathematics own their own solar locations. In many parts lost in the process. The
behind the cooker. of the world they can be only necessity is sunlight;
parabola easily built using local even snowy climates can
But what are the enjoy the advantages of
materials. There are
advantages to using a solar cooking. Parabolic
several organizations and
shape. solar cooker? Besides the cookers require closer
programs world wide that
economic savings, solar attention because the y
Individual cooking helps in the fight
promote the construction
of these solar cookers. can reach much higher
Highlights: against global warming temperatures.
and deforestation. By Many ask, how effective
Solar History 2 using the sun’s rays to are solar cookers? The One concern for people is
cook meals, firewood is effectiveness of a solar the safety of using solar
Building One 3
saved and in many remote cooker can vary cookers. The most
Mathematics 4 areas time is used more depending on what important safety tip for
usefully than for gathering materials are used, how cooking with the sun is
References 5
the necessary firewood well they are crafted, and NOT TO STARE INTO
needed for wood burning what type of climate you THE REFLECTED RAYS.
stoves. live in. Cooking time with YOU SHOULD WEAR
a parabolic cooker is DARK SUNGLASSES
In the remote areas of the WITH UV PROTECTION
similar to a conventional
world a solar cooker can AT ALL TIMES. The
stove, and a box oven is
be used to distill drinking sun’s rays can burn your
similar to a conventional
water and feed villages. eyes and cause blindness
oven. Cooking may take
Many people in the world if the proper precautions
longer is there are fog,
must survive on polluted are not taken. Special
clouds or shadow.
surface water that is attention should be given
difficult for them to Using a solar oven to slow to fire safety as well.
decontaminate. Solar cook a meal means the Parabolic solar cookers
cookers offer an easy food is cooked uniformly should be covered when
solution to this problem. and doesn’t burn no not in use.
matter how long it is
Often times, it is
allowed to cook. Since
necessary to collect wood
Campus Center for Appropriate Technology Page 2 of 5
a How hot do solar cookers get?
This depends primarily on Parabolic cookers can the food to cook evenly
which type of cooker you cook any type of food with and remain warm without
are using and the size of a variety of different burning or scorching.
cooker you build. methods and have shorter
________________ heat up times than solar
Parabolic cookers can
Holly Bradford & Bart ovens. However, they can
Orlando displaying an reach extremely high
be inconvenient to use
umbrella solar cooker temperatures. Therefore,
because of size, cost, risk
they are quite capable of
of fires, and glare.
reaching average cooking
temperatures of between Typically box ovens can
o o o
212 F (100 C) and 350 F reach temperatures of
o 350°F (176°C). One
(177 C) for frying, boiling
and baking foods. advantage of cooking with
Cooking time is affected a solar oven is that you
by the size of the can leave the food to cook
parabolic dish, the size of without supervision: it is o
C = (5/9) (F _ 32)
the cooking pot and not always necessary to
o o
achieve high temperatures F = (9/5 · C ) + 32
outside temperatures.
to cook food. Cooking at
lower temperatures allows

The History of Solar Energy Use

Kendra Cecil and Bart
The harnessing of solar the first “hot box” was Although these various
Orlando making
energy began with the invented by Horace de solar inventions were
popcorn on CCAT's ancients. They were the Saussure. With the never very successful on a
parabolic solar cooker. first to begin using advances in science and large scale, they did aide
passive solar design in technology during the in the advancement of a
their homes and to use Industrial Revolution, practical development of
glass to trap solar heat. came the development of this revolutionary
The use of curved mirrors various devices designed technology.
to concentrate the sun’s to harness solar energy.
It was in the 1950’s that
rays was developed by Solar pumps, solar
solar cookers began to
the Aztecs, Greeks, cookers, solar heat
evolve into the products
Romans, and Chinese. engines, and solar stills
we see today. The United
The concept of “burning are just some of the
Nations and other
mirrors,” for weapons, has inventions of this time.
agencies began solar
been considered for
Augustin Mouchot, a cooker design studies.
millennia. It was through
professor of mathematics These studies found that
the Greeks geometric
at the Lyceé de Tours, when properly
development that they
was an important figure constructed, solar cookers
discovered a parabolic
in this revolution. He was not only cooked food
surface held the ideal
the first to develop a thoroughly and
shape for these burning
solar cooker; he was nutritiously, but also were
successful in finding a easy to build and use.
Awareness of the ability benefactor to fund his Programs were created to
“A small burning mirror for glass to trap solar heat research. This lead him introduce these designs to
typical of those used by
became increasingly to Africa where he remote locations in the
natural scientists during
important in the invented a portable solar hope of aiding those in
the 1500’s and 1600’s.”
~Butti & Perlin eighteenth century. It was oven for the French need.
during this century that troops. similar to using a
conventional stove top.
Page 3 of 5 Parabolic Solar Cookers Parabola Shape

Why Use a Parabolic Shape?

“One cannot help coming Focus
When a three dimensional fry foods, boil water, or
to the conclusion that it
parabola (i.e. a paraboloid) even bake bread. They
would be prudent and is aimed at the sun, all the can also be used to
wise not to fall asleep light that falls upon its generate steam, power
regarding this quasi- mirrored surface is sterling engines, crack x

security. Eventually reflected to a point known water to produce H2 gas,

as the focus. If a black and even plasma matter. This diagram shows
industry will no longer find
cooking pot is placed at the unique properties
in Europe the resources It is easy to see in today’s of the parabola.
the focus it will absorb the
to satisfy its prodigious world that this shape is
light's energy and become
expansion…Coal will successful in its use. The
very hot. A satellite dish is
parabolic shape can be
undoubtedly be used up. an example of a
seen in satellite dishes,
What will industry do parabaloid that can be
radio towers, and yes,
then?” made into a cooker.
even in solar cookers
Parabolic Solar cookers
~Augustin Mochot, around the world. It is
heat up quickly and are
Professor of Mathematics1860 simple to say it works, and
used like a standard
just as simple to
stovetop range to sauté or
understand how it works. ________________________
HSU student riveting
How to Build a Parabolic Cooker aluminum to dish.

One of the easiest attached, your work is narrow triangular facets

beginnings for a parabolic done for you since these no wider than ten inches,
solar cooker can be found are located at the focus of then riveted to the dish.
in thousands of backyards the dish. However, if you Sheet metal supply
across the United obtain one without it, you companies can be found
________________________ States—the satellite dish, will need to make some online or in the phone
from the large C-band to simple calculations. Use book. Riveting supplies
A gimbaled pot support made the small digital dish. the sample problem on can be found at a
from 12" used bicycle rim What happens to these the next page to guide you hardware store.
attached to metal tubing.
relics once they are through this process.
The pot stand, located at
discarded? They are large
The focus can also be the focus, can be made
and awkward and not
found by direct from a used 12" bicycle
easily recycled. Building
observation after you have rim attached to pieces of
your own solar cooker is a
lined the dish with a metal tubing so that the
great way to reuse these
reflective material. Hold a rim and cooking pot can
parabolic-shaped units
piece of cardboard close be levelled. Place a grate
while reducing waste in
to the center of the dish, across the rim to support
the landfill.
then move it up and down the pot.
Once you have decided to toward the sun and back.
Remember while you are
build your parabolic solar A circle of light will appear
constructing your cooker,
cooker it is important to on the underside of the
find a dish that is as cardboard. When the
DIRECTLY into the cooker
concave a s possible in circle is smallest, the
once you have installed
order to have an position of the focus is
your reflecting material.
accessible focus point to found.
cook at. Next, measure
The most popular material PROTECTIVE DARK
your dish and locate your
________________________ used to line the dish is a SUNGLASSES WHEN
focus. If you have a
HSU Students using a Beverly reflective, mirror-finished, WORKING WITH YOUR
satellite dish with the
shear to cut aluminum sheets anodised aluminium COOKER!
receiver/antenna still
into triangular facets. sheet. These are cut into
y Parabolic Solar Cookers Page 4 of 5

(-10, 6) (10, 6) How to Calculate the Focus.
F = (0, a)
4.17 6
' Example 1: A mirror is coordinate system so that
shaped like a parabaloid the vertex of the parabola
of revolution and will be is at the origin and its 10 2 = 4a(6)
-10 10
used to concentrate the focus is on the positive y- 100 = 24a
rays of the sun at its axis.
When building your own parabolic 100
cooker it is important to build your focus, creating a heat a= ⇒ 4.17 feet
The form of the equation
pot stand at the focus. Simply source. If the mirror is 20
of the parabola is
measure the length and depth of feet across at it’s edge
your parabolic shape. and is 6 feet deep, where x 2 = 4ay and its focus is The heat source will
concentrate 4.17 feet from
will the heat source be at (0, a).
the center (vertex) of the
Since (10, 6) is a point on dish, in a direct line of
Solution: We draw the the graph, the equation is: sight toward the sun.
parabola used to form the
dish on a rectangular

Example 2: A satellite deep at its center, at what Since (4, 3) is a point on

dish is shaped like a position should the the graph, the equation is:
three-dimensional receiver be placed?
parabola. The signals that 4 2 = 4a(3)
emanate from a satellite Solution: We draw the
strike the surface of the
16 = 12a
parabola used to form the
dish and are reflected to a dish on a rectangular 4
single point, where the coordinate system so that
receiver is located.
the vertex of the parabola
8' (When sunlight strikes the is at the origin and its The receiver should be
(-4, 3) 4 (4, 3) mirrored surface of the focus is on the positive y- located 1_ feet from the
dish, it will reflect to the axis. The form of the center (vertex) of the dish,
F = (0, a) 3 same point. This is where equation of the parabola is along a direct line of sight
' the cooking pot should be toward the sun.
located for solar cooking.) x 2 = 4ay and its focus is
x If the dish is 8 feet across at (0, a).
-4 4 at its origin and is 3 feet
Using the rectangular coordinate
system allows us to draw the picture
and determine mathematically where
the focus should be located for
maximum usage.

________________________ _____________________
Brown rice cooked in 30 min in The pot support on this 6'
a pressure cooker on a stainless steel dish is
parabolic dish. attached to a piece of
tubing coming up through
the center of the dish.
CCAT: References
Campus Center for “How to make the parabolic AMSI solar cooker.” ARBA Minch Solar Initiative.
“Parabola Design Wood Model”, ARBA Minch Solar Initiative.
Butti, Ken & John Perlin. A Gold Thread: 2500 Years of Solar Architecture and Technology.
Humboldt State Cheshire Books, Palo Alto. 1980
University Eric Weisstein’s World of Mathematics - 1999 CRC Press LLC, 1999-2003 Wolfram Research, Inc.
Arcata, CA 95521
Genesis. Dynamic Design: A Collection Process, “The Concentrator”
PHONE: Kim, Yun K. & Li-Yan Zhu. “A Parabolic Solar Cooker for Unattended Cooking.”
KUNDAPUR, ASHOK. Professor & Head, Department of Zoology, MGM College, Udupi- 576 102,
E-MAIL: INDIA “REVIEW OF SOLAR COOKER DESIGNS.” Lerios, Toli & Natasha Lindo. Stanford Youth Environmental Science Program. “Physics of Solar
N8PPQ, “Parabolic Reflecting Antennas” -
The Solar Cook -
The Solar Cooking Archive – Sponsored by Solar Cookers International
1919 21st St., Suite 101; Sacramento, CA 95814 Tel: 916-455-4499
Email: website:

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