Inhabitat believes that sustainable design isn’t just about what things are made of, but how they’re made, how they function, and whose lives they improve now and in the future. Operation Blessing, a non-profit committed to “breaking the cycle of suffering” has taken the age-old technique of harnessing the sun’s heat to cook food, and turned it into a viable design for off-the-grid, minimal-resource third-world demographics. In the Gansu Province of China, and soon in Darfur camps, the sun-powered parabolic solar oven allows the suffering and hungry to cleanly cook and boil water and without firewood, using only that always-renewable energy source: the sun. The oven’s design is also a great example of using ancient technologies in modern ways to address social problems.

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The ovens are made of concrete and resemble a television satellite dish covered with reflective mirrors. They are easily pointed at the sun and the mirrors focus the energy on a cooking platform. It only takes minutes to achieve a cooking temperature, which will ignite a piece of paper held in front after only a few seconds. These ovens are easy and inexpensive to manufacture and can be used to cook and dehydrate foods for later consumption, and also to sanitize drinking water and medical equipment. Because the ovens use solar energy, there is no cost to operate them.

The technology is certainly nothing new- dating back to the ancient Greek philosopher Diocles, who invented the parabolic mirror (200 B.C.). In 1515, inventor/artist Leonardo da Vinci improved on the concept and invented a parabolic mirror device to concentrate heat and boil water for industrial use.

But the application is certainly ground-breaking. “In Gansu, like in many other poverty-stricken regions around the world, firewood is as precious as water,” said Operation Blessing president Bill Horan. “There are virtually no trees here, and so little rain, that the only bath most people take in their whole life is on their wedding day. These solar ovens are based on ancient technology and they are eco-friendly – a totally renewable energy source.” + Operation Blessing