Bridgette Meinhold

Wilson Solar Grill Stores the Sun's Energy for Nighttime Fuel-Free Grilling

by , 08/14/11
filed under: Green Kitchen, Solar Power

Wilson Solar Grill, solar grill, MIT, humanitarian design, solar power, solar cooking

Many of us will be firing up our grills this weekend for some well-deserved barbecue time. After all, barbecuing is one of America’s greatest pastimes, but it certainly isn’t one of our most environmentally friendly. Whether you prefer charcoal, wood chips or propane, grilling releases emissions and contributes to poor air quality. Up until now, solar powered grilling has required, as you might expect, the sun, which means traditional fuel-fired grills are required after sunset. But new solar technology developed by MIT professor David Wilson could bring a nighttime solar-powered grill to the market very soon; an invention also of great benefit to those in developing nations who rely on wood to cook all their food.


Wilson Solar Grill, solar grill, MIT, humanitarian design, solar power, solar cooking

Wilson’s technology harnesses the sun and stores latent heat to allow cooking times for up to an amazing twenty five hours at temperatures above 450 degrees Fahrenheit. The technology uses a Fresnel lens to harness the sun’s energy to melt down a container of Lithium Nitrate. The Lithium Nitrate acts as a battery storing thermal energy for 25 hours at a time. The heat is then released as convection for outdoor cooking.

“There are a lot of solar cookers out there,” says Wilson, “but surprisingly not many using latent-heat storage as an attribute to cook the food.” Wilson developed the idea after spending time in Nigeria, where wood is used for cooking, which causes a number of problems. Not only is cooking with firewood leading to respiratory illnesses, but is also increasing the rate of deforestation and women are being raped while searching for wood.

A group of MIT students are working with the technology to develop a prototype solar grill. Derek Ham, Eric Uva, and Theodora Vardouli are conducting a study through their multi-disciplinary course “iTeams,” short for “Innovation Teams”, to determine the interest in such a concept and then hopefully launch a business to manufacture and distribute these grills. The goal is to develop a business model for distributing solar grills to developing nations as well as a grill for the American market. The American version is expected to be a hybrid propane/solar model that will allow for flame cooking as well as through thermal convection. If all goes well, in a couple years we just be giving solar grills as presents on Father’s Day and enjoying sun-kissed instead of char-broiled even after the sun goes down.

+ Solar Grill on Barbecue Lovers

Via Treehugger

Images ©Derek Ham

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61 Comments

  1. ajdorsey June 30, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Pretty much the coolest product post I’ve seen on here in a while.

  2. Tafline Laylin Tafline Laylin June 16, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    Petros, please contact the designer directly. Thanks!

  3. petros June 15, 2014 at 12:34 pm

    IS IT SOLD SOMEWHERE IN GREECE? IF NOT I WOULD BE INTERESTED IN SELLING IT HERE! CAN SOMEBODY GET IN TOUCH WITH ME PLEASE?

  4. Stuart21 June 8, 2014 at 8:38 pm

    Sounds great but would like to see some real pics & real feedback.
    Gunna be hell to clean -

  5. Ashok Malhotra February 16, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    The Ninash Foundation (www.ninash.org) builds schools for female and minority children of India. The three villages where 5 schools are established could use solar-powered grills. Let’s know when you are ready to build them and sell them? We might be able to help the villagers in these towns.

  6. Tha Real November 19, 2013 at 3:27 am

    so here is what I think. In stead of cooking food in this I would boil water and create steam and release it at high pressure over turbines that are turning generators to create electricity. Collect the steam and condense it back to the water tank and let it just keep on going. Power for ever. Well as long as you live and the device remains intact with the sun shining.

  7. Joyy Javalikar August 4, 2013 at 10:53 am

    Author or Inventor should clarify that Pictures are photo_shopped,But Idea is not

  8. Joseph Cole July 26, 2013 at 3:04 am

    would like to know how to find out more info an how much one of the se are

  9. Suzanne Case July 24, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Aloha! This is a photo-shopped picture of women who are really making palm oil in Ghana. You may want to contact the source of the photo and let them know. It was in poor taste to dupe people whoever made that photo.
    http://www.thisfabtrek.com/journey/africa/ghana-togo-benin/20090330-accra/ghana-white-palm-oil-4.jpg

  10. great white- shark July 18, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    “The American version is expected to be a hybrid propane/solar model that will allow for flame cooking as well as through thermal convection.”

    I could not agree more with Cathy Perez!!

  11. Cathy Perez July 14, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Why a different version for the US? I want the one that I see in the picture that is totally solar and able to grill without fuel except for solar. When will we be able to buy these..I want it now lol. Please market it soon, we need these especially in apartments where charcoal grills are banned and a tank of compressed propane outside my house or close to my house is just not happening. Sorry.

  12. R. Greene July 13, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    This invention is awesome. can it be modified to produce home heating in cold climates?

  13. billhopen July 13, 2013 at 5:38 am

    sounds like a pretty expensive high tech fix for african wood burning peasants living a subsistance life off the land. Even in high production, what will one of these units cost as a percentage of annual income for poor rural Nigerians?

    As for the gleaming stainless steel yuppie model in the US Suburbia….how much energy was expended in mining the iron and nickle and chromium and lithium and melting refining then fabricating this item? how many bags of charcoal made from recycled biomass (another form of solar stored energy BTW harvested from waste sawdust and providing low wage domestic employment) will be saved over the life of this yuppie-ware unit?which (probably will be made in China, in a cancer village factory zone)
    …Is that a good trade? or is it a feel-good “green-ware” unit that makes people feel like they are “doing something” like driving a Tesla…that makes the world a better more sustainable place? Think thou MIT engineers, use your math skills as an economist first, use your design skill to calculate to society you create, shrewdly and frugally use the finite resources you manage.

  14. Carol Houchin July 9, 2013 at 10:17 am

    THE SOLAR POWERED COOKER MENTIONED IN THIS ARTICLE IS NOT REAL. THERE IS RESEARCH GOING ON TO COME UP WITH A VIABLE SOLAR COOKING SOLUTION, BUT THIS RESEARCH IS NOT COMPLETED AND WILL NOT BE AVAILABLE FOR YEARS.

  15. Audrey Fletcher July 9, 2013 at 2:32 am

    I am 58 years old and did solar cooking when I was a Girl scout in grade school. I can’t believe it is taking this long to come full circle! we used a cardboard box and tin foil and it worked great!6 month ago you had an article about a teen who invented a solar laser that could melt cement was that a joke too? I drew Prototypes at the age of 13 and couldn’t understand why they were not out on the market then! I can’t believe a magnifying lens is so expensive. Yet I still think this is an answer to places that you don’t want to ruin the environment by using it to cook with. After seeing the solar tubes that are available to put in your home that directs the Sunlight down into the house it would even be usable inside. To purchase solar cooking ovens they all seem to be coming out of Australia! I really can’t figure out why more people are not trying to bring this to market!

  16. Luz Marina Moncada July 5, 2013 at 3:07 pm

    Where can I get it and how much it cost?

  17. Mary C Charest July 5, 2013 at 8:24 am

    Where can you buy these? Please provide link. Thank you.

  18. McDuderson July 3, 2013 at 8:50 pm

    The wording of this article is a bit misleading. This grill as shown simply will not be able to cook non stop with 1 day’s thermal storage.

    Given that:
    1. At best on a clear day near the equator in mid-summer you will get 1 kW/m^2 of direct-normal solar insolation for the eqivilent of 11 hours (1 kW-h/m^2)

    and

    2. An efficient cooking grill requires a flux of around 40 kW/m^2 to safely cook meats

    Then assuming the collector area is roughly the same as the cooking surface area (as it appears shown here. The slant will add a few percent more area, but let’s keep the math simple, you can estimate from there), you can see that, in the best possible case, 1 day of charging will give you about 17 minutes of grilling time.

    (11 kW-h/m^2 / 40 kW/m^2 = 0.275 hr)

    It would be possible to store up 25 hours of grilling time with enough nitrate salt and good insulation, but it would take you –91 days– of perfect summer weather to get there. Any cloudy days, and you get only diffuse, non-concentrating sunlight, which must be taken into account as well.

    This would be a fun but expensive occasional use eco-grill for the wealthy for now, but it simply can’t operate at the rate required for daily meal prep as pictured in the village above.

  19. dr.a.jagadeesh July 1, 2013 at 1:23 am

    Excellent. Can be adopted in Developing countries.
    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India

  20. Lazalight May 18, 2013 at 9:08 am

    I know these photos are photoshopped BUT all inventions have their origins in IDEAS + THOUGHTS everything we use today was once unimaginable so before we get too down on this amazing technology idea lets celebrate innovation.

  21. Kalimba April 17, 2013 at 4:04 pm

    The photo montages in each happy scene leave me with a bad taste in the mouth…is this just another gadget riding on the ‘eco’ wave and ‘help the poor’ in developing countries?

  22. Spotted Marley March 17, 2013 at 6:24 am

    wondering why these grills need to be photoshopped into the pictures. doesnt the grill actually exist? even the one with the smug looking rich people grilling is photoshopped.

  23. Eleanor Russell March 11, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Please make them for the European market too! I’m happy to help market them!

  24. Joey Johannsen March 10, 2013 at 8:53 am

    Thanks. Great idea for clean grilling, but the more sustainable suggestion would be to grill vegetables and not animal flesh. The animal industry is unsustainable and the environmental impact extremely negative.

  25. Lyle Fried January 14, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    I believe the whole Wilson solar stove you see is a scam. They never supply any additional information and the photos are all fake – Photoshop work, not actual application of the product.

    Plenty of people chiming in to say how wonderful it is, but no one from Wilson to respond. Maybe if we asked how we could send tons of investment money instead of how we could apply the technology in impoverished countries we’d get a response.

  26. alexandre turino January 14, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Hello.

    This is a fantastic use of knowledge.

    If possible I would like to know more about the project and material involved to manufacture this grill. It seems a fresnel special lense is used and it a core of this project.

    Alexandre.turino@gmail.com

  27. Donna Carrillo December 5, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Where can we buy this?

  28. lirica October 15, 2012 at 9:09 pm

    Giant leaves for dinner again??

    Instead of donating a dollar a day, Photoshop a smile on a starving African child’s face!

    (thanks psdisasters)

  29. mickhynzy September 9, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    Not sure of the technology, but could sodium replace the lithium? I know researchers in Perth Australia have just had a breakthrough with water based sodium ion batteries, not yet finished but looks really positive.

    Sodium would make the whole system far cheaper, more accessible to developing nations and be far better for the environment. Could it work?

  30. disgusted September 5, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    That photo is disgusting. What a PR nightmare. You’d think they’d actually go and test said grill in a 3rd world country to get the photo. It’s probably stock.

  31. qoops September 5, 2012 at 6:32 am

    if it can cook Indian style food, I would like to be reseller and developer in India. let me know. thanks

  32. Khanmirza@Hotmail.com September 5, 2012 at 4:12 am

    Hi savior of the Planet. How much does it cost? I am currently living in India, I would like to purchase a few?

    Mirza

  33. KMEgan0401 September 4, 2012 at 1:00 pm

    I want one for for me in AZ! Jamaica could use these as well for jerking.

  34. Lyle Fried August 26, 2012 at 6:15 pm

    Okay, where do we learn if this is economically viable for poorer nations such as Haiti. We do a lot of outreach work there, but funds are always very tight. As much as I’d love to see this technology there, it must be affordable or it will never happen. How much?

  35. MikVik790 August 21, 2012 at 12:18 pm

    I’m sorry but the photos look surreal – retouched photography created on someone’s desktop. Interesting idea but it is highly unlikely that the communities in need will ever receive these shiny, state of the art appliances. Great marketing scheme though – appealing to our need to provide sustainable solutions to these communities in need. but I’m not buying

  36. Benjamin Nead Benjamin Nead August 12, 2012 at 12:38 pm

    Perhaps the best market for this thing is in industrialized countries, where it can supplant residential propane barbecues. I can’t imagine it’s going to cheap anytime soon and, yes, it appears to be a prototype. Calling you local big box store for more information will certainly get you nowhere for now.

    I wouldn’t be concerned with the lithium nitrate in this grill any more than most here would be concerned with poisoning from lithium ion based batteries in their portable electronic devices. Like a battery, it’s a sealed system. The chemicals don’t become an issue unless the device is dismantled far beyond most end users would dare to venture. Like a lithium ion battery, having the heat storage element properly recycled at the end of its lifespan is what needs to be insured.

  37. AndyCouturier August 12, 2012 at 1:30 am

    This sounds “cool’ but is it appropriate technology? Can it be made for less than $4? Probably not. So it’s not going to be feasible for poor people in Africa. The rocket stove, which can be made from an old can and some mud, costs just pennies, and can cook a whole meal with a handful of small twigs. This techno-fix thing should be viewed as old hat by the 21st century.

  38. rvdesai August 9, 2012 at 8:33 am

    I would like to develop one like this in India. Could you help me in this.

  39. nurultha August 9, 2012 at 6:41 am

    Good invention may be good market too

  40. dekdek August 8, 2012 at 4:07 am

    amazing. where can i get info to buy one of those ?

  41. lordkoos August 8, 2012 at 1:08 am

    Why are all the photos obviously photoshopped?

  42. anitasolargrill August 7, 2012 at 7:27 am

    Yes I am interested in being a distributor one day of the solar grills.

  43. Subra August 6, 2012 at 4:01 pm

    I sent this article to a grilling enthusiast friend of mine. He said that the likes the concept, but also favors the charcoal flavor he gets when he grills. Hopefully the designers can incorporate a layer for adding some charcoal (for flavor, and for backup, when the solar heating part is under repair, etc.). Great idea, if the Lithium Nitrate part is environmentally friendly!

  44. Jitu Mehta August 6, 2012 at 12:05 am

    Nice unbelievable thought,it is available in India

  45. hpayden August 5, 2012 at 7:49 pm

    I would like to have one of these to buy for my home. Have somebody email me. heather.payden@gmail.com

  46. Saddique August 5, 2012 at 3:07 am

    I have questions
    1 can it cook food as well asian curries and bake?
    upload a vedio showing the working
    what is the price?

  47. maccool61 August 4, 2012 at 7:55 pm

    Well you won’t get it at Lowes. I work in that area and just verified it does not exist to Lowes. In fact I cannot find this grill anywhere yet. MIT is still working it out I guess.

  48. txnethatcher August 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

    I just hope they make it affordable to the poor people of Nigeria also should look at the Philippines as many use wood and charcoal there. Just how much will the cost of these grills be anyway give me a round about answer thanks.

  49. EvanRavitz August 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    Anything solar is good. But grilling food produces all kinds of toxins, especially with meat. The worst are AGEs: Advanced Glycation End Products. See: http://www.caseperformance.com/85/high-heat-cooking-ages-and-their-effects-on-human-health-part-ii

  50. Jaguaress August 4, 2012 at 10:07 am

    As a U.S. consumer, I would be highly interested in purchasing this. I do also wish to know more about the lithium nitrate and its impact on the environment, both while being used and after the life of grill.

  51. Stonehenge18 August 4, 2012 at 12:32 am

    (Chemist answering here): When the salt is heated to it’s melting point (~520 deg F), additional energy is required to convert the solid at that temperature into a liquid (this energy is reliberated when the liquid returns to solid state – the energy of crystallization). Assuming the salt is stable over the temperature range involved (which is not a trivial assumption with respect to Nitrates being corrosive and strong oxidants) you should be able to melt/recrystallize the salt many many times (in effect creating a heat battery).

    So the sun would provide the energy to melt the solid Lithium Nitrate,and it could then be stored (assuming good insulation, etc) until needed for cooking. There are a number of technical problems I can see (as you have noted), but in theory, it could work.

    With respect to water, there are much simpler designs for producing hot water. There are numerous solar oven designs on the net. The technology is neither new nor particularly difficult (the heat battery concept here is new to my eyes).

  52. JustBen August 3, 2012 at 5:33 pm

    The reason they’re using charcoal to cook in very poor countries is because that’s all they can afford. I don’t think an expensive solar grill comprised of a toxic molten lithium nitrate is going to do much to resolve the poverty.

  53. MARIA TRIGUEROs August 3, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    I am so interested with Wilson Solar Grill. Is it possible to buy?

  54. James Fazio August 3, 2012 at 2:39 pm

    Can’t wait, I want one now so I can begin saving the earth sooner and make it with out the Need of Propane cause It cost money and that is still buring a Fossil Fuel no matter how the fuel was made. I would perfer Straight Sun Light so I would be the Envy of the Neigborhood and be the Fore Runner to the Best Technology in the state that saves the Planet.

  55. naturesmagick August 3, 2012 at 8:29 am

    My question regards “to melt a container of Lithium Nitrate” what issues to health or enviroment does this entail? Nothing just disappears once melted and energy released then what? Thanks

  56. mick in NZ August 3, 2012 at 3:19 am

    this should work for hot water as well ?

  57. DDan August 2, 2012 at 11:22 pm

    Nenny, would you please contact me on another matter?

    Thanks,
    Dan
    engineecology_at_gmail.com

  58. vishal_pruthi January 28, 2012 at 5:47 am

    this is great iwant it to purchase in india {jaipur}.

  59. Nenny August 19, 2011 at 1:45 am

    I am so interested with Wilson Solar Grill. Is it possible to buy the prototype and produce it in Indonesia? Or at first my company would like to apply to be sole distributor in Indonesia? This grill would be in highly demand as Indonesia is tropical country.

    I am looking forward to hearing from you soon

  60. DonJimB August 15, 2011 at 2:35 am

    This would be just the thing in the rural areas of Cambodia where there is little electricity and wood and charcoal are used for cooking. I can speak from experience of cooking on small propane and using simple solar cookers as well as using a brick oven.

  61. flexfireleds1 August 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm

    WOW!! That is great way to garnet the energy.
    Thanks for sharing with us.

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