UCI engineering school gets grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Funding will support continued development of student-designed solar stove

Irvine, Calif., Nov. 20, 2013 – The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UC Irvine will receive a $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation for developing a solar stove that enables carbon emissions-free cooking.

The Grand Challenges Explorations initiative is intended to foster outside-the-box solutions to persistent global health and development issues. More than 80 grants were announced today by the Gates Foundation in the 11th round of funding.

The stored energy solar stove was initially designed by a group of senior mechanical engineering students at UC Irvine under the guidance of former research adviser John Garman. It permits carbon emissions-free cooking indoors and at night, which not only reduces deforestation, labor time and safety concerns for women who leave their villages to gather firewood, but also pollutes indoor air far less than the traditional in-home cooking methods currently employed in developing countries.

The students developed a working model that uses a solar collector to concentrate sunlight on an energy storage device, which consists of an insulated box filled with potassium nitrate and sodium nitrate. The salts are heated to their melting point by the solar radiation. Within three hours in the sun, the stove stores 0.5 kilowatt-hours of energy, which is released as the molten salt slowly resolidifies. This provides a stable heat source indoors or after sunset with a surface temperature well-suited to making foods such as bread and rice. The technology has gone through two design iterations and, with this grant, will be further refined by a new group of senior engineering students.

“What this grant money allows us to do is continue working on an effective thermal mechanical design to create a solution to an important global health and environmental degradation problem,” said Derek Dunn-Rankin, professor and chair of the Samueli School’s Department of Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering and principal investigator for the project.

Mechanical engineering student Lineker Phuong said that he and his collaborators have still got some work to do on the design. “We cooked up two batches of bacon easily, but by the third, the bacon didn’t fully cook,” he said. “The temperature of our cooking surface decreased gradually even while the temperature inside the box stayed constant throughout the cooking experiment.”

About Grand Challenges Explorations: Grand Challenges Explorations is a $100 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. More than 850 people in at least 50 countries have received Grand Challenges Explorations grants. The program, launched in 2008, is open to anyone in any discipline from any organization. It uses an agile, accelerated grant-making process with two-page online applications and no preliminary data required. Initial grants of $100,000 are awarded twice a year. Successful projects are eligible for follow-on grants of up to $1 million.

About the University of California, Irvine: Located in coastal Orange County, near a thriving employment hub in one of the nation’s safest cities, UC Irvine was founded in 1965. One of only 62 members of the Association of American Universities, it’s ranked first among U.S. universities under 50 years old by the London-based Times Higher Education. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Michael Drake since 2005, UC Irvine has more than 28,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.3 billion annually to the local economy.

Media access: UC Irvine maintains an online directory of faculty available as experts to the media at http://today.uci.edu/resources/experts.php. Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UC Irvine faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UC Irvine news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.

Also: