Sunday, May 13, 2018

Free Energy - The Sun

So the kids were gaining knowledge about melting snow and they found some amazing facts that would aid them in coming up with a solution to melting snow on Mt. Everest.  You need 4 liters of drinking water a day minimum and burning fuel at the first base-camp is super inefficient because of the altitude and oxygen concentration in the air.  It takes four hours a day of continuous burning of the canisters to melt the drinking water for the next day for one person.

When you think about that - this is really a big logistics problem.  If you were up and done in a few days - that wouldn't be that bad.  But realize that the climbers have to acclimatize to each new altitude jump at a camp for weeks meaning that the entire climb takes two months.  That is a TON of fuel needed.

Sheet metal cutting.  Only a partial box of
band aids needed as we bought
cut-safe gloves
We would think that some means of melting would be inefficient compared to a flame, but in fact this isn't the case.  So would a means of using solar energy help?

The kids got into high gear and started researching solar electricity generation and using concentrated solar rays - solar ovens.  I love it when something like this comes up because there is no better way than to build and test things.  There isn't anything out there on melting snow or ice with solar collectors and in effect, we were talking about building a 'Solar Death Ray' that looked like the planet killer from Star Wars.  They got really excited (you know - you really just have to know how to present science to kids to get them jumping up and down - talk their language).
Yet another Solar Death Ray under construciton

So began our fall of "THE SOLAR DEATH RAY" construction projects.  And we built many of them.  You can imagine what our yard looked like.  Yes, many neighbors had to stop and ask if we were phoning ET.

We explored ideas of making Pringles cans into hot dog and marshmallow cookers as prototypes of water bottles that could melt snow while climbing in the day (failed - but the squirrels really liked our outside offerings in the strange smelling split open cans).  And our kids loved the late Friday night trip to the grocery store to get marshmallows and Pringles (they affectionately call my SUV "the swagon" and loading up as a squished group for field trips is beloved).  Apparently they thought we needed to try the scientific variable of different Pringle flavors as if the following taste test would affect the reflectivity of the inside of the cans.

We made huge ray domes from math calculators online.  And any time you need to make a trip to Home Depot and buy really big stuff and figure out how to get it into your car and yet seat six kids - well that is a day full of laughter.  We are a hilarious sight in a hardware store - a middle aged woman and a half-dozen kids talking death rays and picking up wacky stuff (like air ducts) and trying to figure out how to modify it to be what we want.  I have become accustomed to accosting the staff at the local electronics store and hardware store with weird requests with a gaggle of kids.

Finally ready for outdoors testing!
They knew from their online studies that that conventional solar cookers needed to be parabolic in shape and huge to be energy efficient.  But that carrying them over the ice crevasses would be impossible.  So having them be collapsable or segmented was needed.  We tried parabolic photographic umbrellas, making big segmented ones, making ones that went together with velcro, etc.  We went through a lot of metal duct tape!! Finally we needed a control to make sure that we could really melt snow and bought a metal parabola mirror from Edmund's scientific to do tons of tests - assuming with a real manufacturing facility we could make one that was built on the mountain.

Of course part of the outside testing with a huge parabola that can melt ice is to see what else you can light on fire.  Yes... I be the cool coach.  Some of our stuff could burn through wood and it was used to light the tinder for the fire pit.

The testing got underway in the cold fall and we learned a few things - we could melt the needed 4 liters ice in just two hours with the solar cooker and forgo the two pounds of mixed propane fuel A DAY they need because our system was reusable.  And importantly the chipmunks really liked our 'control ice pot'.  That was a pot of ice on the ground in the same sun to make sure that it wasn't just regular melting that was doing the job (it wasn't).  We did time lapse photography to measure when the ice actually melted in our device and often the chipmunks took a dip or drink in our control - pretty hilarious.

So now we had proof at sea level and cold weather - we had data on weather conditions for the Everest climbing seasons and they were matching up well.  So time to bring in some experts and learn more now that we had the beginnings of a viable idea.


  1. I am fascinated. Post the next installment ASAP!

  2. Just fabulous! Would love to send my two grandsons along but I guess your swagon doesn't stop in Thailand or Australia.

  3. I love this! Looking forward to reading the next steps