Appropriate Technology

Our rocket stove, pictured above, was mentioned on BoingBoing last week and we thought we’d use the occasion for a brief roundup of similar “appropriate” technology concepts. The term appropriate technology evolved out of political economist E. F. Schumacher’s book Small is Beautiful and is easier to show rather than describe. While not always low-tech, appropriate tech concepts feature elegantly simple (but not simplistic) design, efficient use of energy and are usually aimed at poor countries. What Homegrown Evolution would like to prove is that these technologies have a place in developed western countries as well. Here’s three of our favorite appropriate tech ideas and websites:

1. Rocket Stoves: our brick rocket stove and a link to a video on how to make a simple metal version.

2. The glorious Solar Cooking Archive which has links to dozens of simple solar cooker plans that you can build yourself. We built our cardboard and aluminum foil Pavarti cooker with plans from the solar cooking archive.

3. AfriGadget. The subtitle of this blog says it all, “solving everyday problems with African ingenuity.”

A Parvati Solar Cooker

Damn, is solar cooking easy! Put some rice in a pot, place the pot in this simple panel cooker, made with cardboard and aluminum foil, stick it out in the sun and two hours later you have lunch.

We built our “Parvati” solar cooker with plans designed by Shobha Ravindra Pardeshi that can be found here. Pardeshi, who runs an “appropriate technology” company with her husband in India has another design for a similar dish-shaped cooker here. We found both of these cookers (and many more) via the amazing Solar Cooking Archive.

For the Parvati cooker, we cut the cardboard according to the plans, and affixed the aluminum foil with spray glue. For our first pot of rice we used a black enamel pot to better absorb the heat of the sun’s rays, and wrapped it in a roasting bag to increase the efficiency of the cooker. A five gallon bucket made a convenient stand and did not have to be rotated in the two hours it took to cook the rice. Longer cooking times would require re-aiming the cooker as the sun moves across the sky. Temperature in the pot quickly went over 180º F, the point at which food begins to cook. The two hour cooking time is much longer than it would take on a conventional stove, but with a solar cooker there is no danger of burning, making the process, in our opinion, easier than stove-top cooking. Consider a solar cooker a kind of low-powered crock pot for lazy and cheap people–good for things like rice, beans, soups and stews, but not good for sauteing. Just remember the oven mitts–this thing gets hot!

When the sun gets higher in the sky, as we move into summer, this cooker will reach even higher temperatures. We don’t remember where we read this but some folks say that panel cookers like this one cook best when your shadow is shorter than you are which, here in Los Angeles, is right about now. We tried this cooker back in January and it performed well, but did not get above 140º F, which is not hot enough to cook.

Perhaps here around the Root Simple compound we’ll get around to turning our Parvati Solar Cooker into a low rent attraction. Just add some ostriches and we’ll repeat this early 20th century tourist trap in nearby Pasadena (click to biggify):

Street Signs and Solar Ovens

If SurviveLA put together a museum show it would, pretty much, look like an exhibit currently at the Craft and Folk Art Museum entitled “Street Signs and Solar Ovens: Socialcraft in Los Angeles” which is on view until December 31st. Curated by the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, this timely show focuses on objects that demonstrate creative, low-tech solutions to the environmental and political mess we find ourselves in.

We were particularly struck by the display case full of soda cans transformed by LA survivalist Christopher Nyerges into a variety of uses including lamps and stoves (see SurviveLA’s earlier post on creating a Pepsi can stove). Nyerges also contributed two improvised solar ovens, one made out of a discarded pizza box.

Other highlights include a functioning still by Alison Wiese, the stunning knitted clothing of Lisa Auerbach, items from the Path to Freedom urban homestead and contributions from the fine folks at C.I.C.L.E.

So, get on your bike, head down to the Craft and Folk Art Museum, and see this provocative show!

Craft and Folk Art Museum Hours:
Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 11am – 5pm
Thursday 11am – 7pm
Saturday-Sunday 12pm – 6pm

Museum Admissions:
$5.00 adults
$3.00 students/seniors
Free for children 12 and under
Free admission on the first Wednesday of every month.

Location:
5814 Wilshire Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036

Suntracker

Brief linkage today. While Homegrown Revolution doesn’t like to overdo the technology thing, we think this natural light collecting skylight device called the Suntracker One has promise. Similar in principle to the Solatube, the Suntracker, as the name implies, has an additional feature that the Solatube lacks — it tracks the sun with a built-in electronic brain and mirrors. Both the Solatube and the Suntracker direct the light down a tube, thus replacing the heinous blocks of fluorescent fixtures that typically light most commercial buildings with a more aesthetically pleasing natural light. Solatubes are available for residential use, but the Suntracker is oriented towards larger commercial applications.

Build a Ghetto Solar Cooker

Using crap we had laying around the homestead, SurviveLA fashioned a solar cooker based on plans from Backwoods Home Magazine, the Dwell of the Ted Kaczynski set. We just substituted an old cooler for the cardboard boxes, and we finished it off by using one of Los Angeles’ ubiquitous abandoned car tires as a cradle to keep the cooker oriented towards the sun. It ain’t pretty but it works. In our first test we reached 160º inside the oven, but we think we can do better with some refinements such as finding a black pot with a lid.

Yesterday we cooked up a somewhat disappointing batch of “chocolate pudding” which ended up with the consistency and taste of warm cake batter. We’ll test out some other recipes in the next few days, sun permitting, and keep you, our loyal readers, informed.

For more information on solar cookers check out the superb Solar Cooking Archive. You can also purchase a commercially made solar oven called the Global Sun Oven, but why do that when you can make one with cardboard, aluminum foil, and a black pot?

Crapper Livin’


Your house should be like this National Park Service bathroom. Located on remote Santa Rosa Island, forty-six miles off the coast of Ventura, this handsome building features a solar water heater and a 12 volt electrical system to power the lights. Built of durable materials such as cedar and recycled plastic decking, this building should see many years of service.

SurviveLA advocates the virtues of living small. Why not, for example, live in the Santa Rosa Island campground bathroom? The average American house has been super-sized to a gut busting 2,400 square feet and living in a structure the size of this bathroom would probably violate city codes in many places which mandate a minimum square footage for habitable dwellings. The nice thing about a small house is that it discourages the accumulation of crap and requires a lot less energy to maintain.

Sure, there is less convenience with a building like this. With a very simple solar water heating system showers need to be taken at the end of the day and the very modest solar panel would not be able to power any major appliances. But these are minor sacrifices compared to the enormous benefits of self-sufficiency, namely one’s freedom.

An aside here – SurviveLA encourages a trip out to beautiful Santa Rosa Island to enjoy the natural wonders and to visit this bathroom of the future. Unfortunately the vile and corrupt San Diego congressman Duncan Hunter wants to restrict access to the island so that fat cats can continue to go on $16,000 trophy hunts while drinking beer on the back of a truck. Read more about his plan to turn Santa Rosa into a retreat for disabled vets (an excuse to keep the fat cat hunt going) in the Washington Post. Please fax Hunter at this address ASAP and tell him that Santa Rosa Island belongs to the people, and should be run by the National Parks Service: Rep. Duncan Hunter, 2265 Rayburn HOB, Washington, DC 20515-0552. Fax is 202-225-0235. Let’s give Duncan the flush!