Photo courtesy of Catlin Powers

Photo courtesy of Catlin Powers

Solar-powered cooker helps reduce toxic indoor air pollution

August 27, 2013 — While studying climate change in the Himalayas, Catlin Powers, SM’11, a Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) PhD candidate in environmental health, was intrigued when a family asked her why scientists were studying outdoor air pollution instead of indoor air pollution that was worse.

That question led Powers to measure the air quality inside the family’s home, which she found was 10 times more polluted than the outdoor air in Beijing. She then learned more than half a million people each year die in China from toxic smoke from household stoves used for cooking and heating.

Powers worked with rural communities and others to explore alternate fuel sources for home cooking. The result was SolSource, a portable, fuel- and emission-free sun-powered cooker that can grill, steam, bake, boil, or fry. Not only does the device reduce indoor air pollution, it generates a large amount of energy beyond what is needed for cooking. Today, Powers and her colleagues at One Earth Designs, which she co-founded, are working on harnessing that extra energy for electricity, household heating, water purification, and waste processing.

“Today, you can eat healthy, delicious solar-cooked food. Tomorrow, your solar grill could be powering your house, your car, and your life,” Powers told the Harvard Gazette in an August 21, 2013 interview.

Read a Q and A with Powers in the Harvard Gazette