Characterizing a Death Ray… er, Solar Oven

Many of you will probably at some point have looked at a satellite dish antenna and idly wondered whether it would collect useful amounts of heat if you silvered it and pointed it at the sun. Perhaps you imagine a handy source of  solar-cooked hotdogs, or maybe you’re a bit of a pyromaniac.

[Charlie Soeder] didn’t just think about it, he did it. Finding a discarded offset-focus DirecTV dish, he glued a grid of 230 inch-square mirror tiles to it and set to investigating  the concentrated solar energy at its focus. 

Cotton waste, newspaper, and scraps of fabric char and burn with ease. A cigarette is lit almost from end to end, and it burns a hole right through a piece of bamboo. Most of the energy is in the form of light, so transparent or reflective items need a little help to absorb it from something dark. He demonstrated this by caramelizing some sugar through adding a few bits of charcoal to it, once the charcoal becomes hot enough to caramelize the sugar around it the spreading dark colour causes the rest of the sugar to caramelize without further help.

Solar furnace calculations
Solar furnace calculations

To gain some idea of the power of his solar furnace, he recorded a time series of temperature readings as it heated up some water darkened with a bit of charcoal to absorb heat. The resulting graph had a flat spot as a cloud had passed over the sun, but from it he was able to calculate instantaneous power figures from just below 30W to just below 50W depending on the sun.

He records his progress in the video you’ll find below the break. Will we be the only ones casting around for a surplus dish after watching it?

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Making keys after the apocalypse

Making keys is an amazing art with a lot of skill and technique involved. For those of you living in a post-apocalyptic world, [Dan] has a much simpler solution to the problems of having one too few keys for your locks and deadbolts – just cast them out of scrap with the power of the sun.

To make the mold of the key, [Dan] is using a two-piece plaster of paris mold. First, a thick layer of plaster is laid down in a small container and the key floated on the surface. After drying, sprues are put in with clay and the key embedded in a curing plaster block. After a few hours, a proper mold is created ready to receive molten metal.

The casting material is zinc – not as hard as the original steel key, but more than strong enough to turn a lock. This zinc is melted in a steel and plaster crucible with a gigantic fresnel lens.

As for the utility of this method of copying keys after the apocalypse, we’ll have to wonder how practical this method is. A giant fresnel lens isn’t just something you randomly find unless you’re going house to house looking for projection TVs, and finding a can of mold release after the end of the world is beyond credulity. That said, it’s a cool demonstration of metal casting that can be easily accomplished at home or at any hackerspace.

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