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Heat storage

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Last updated: 9 January 2017      

Heat storage for solar cooking typically refers to adding mass to store additional heat for cooking, increasing a solar cooker's efficiency. The most common approaches use either 'sensible' or 'latent' mediums as storage devices. Sensible heat storage incorporates adding a heavy mass, such as black painted bricks or a volume of oil, heated within the cooking chamber prior to cooking. The extra mass gives back its heat, stabilizing cooking temperatures, and extending cooking time into the evening. Alternately, latent storage materials are capable of holding more usable cooking heat than sensible materials due to their phase changing nature. A latent heat storage material can either be used with daytime cooking, or heated separately during the day, and then used for cooking after dark or the next morning.

Latent heat storage mediums, usually salts, waxes, or high pressure steam, are first heated to a high temperature within a well-insulated container. The medium changes from a solid to a liquid, or liquid to gas, as it is heated, efficiently storing the heat. Cooking can also be done remotely in the kitchen, as the hot medium can be delivered on-demand via piping to the cooking surface, or a self-contained heating module can be brought into the kitchen to use as a stovetop. The ARUN®100 with Thermal Storage at Ramkrishna Mission, Chennai, India stores heat by sending excess steam to the standby boiler system pressurizing the water supply. Steam used for cooking is later regenerated by flashing the pressurized tank. Materials that undergo a chemical reaction also have the ability to give back stored heat at a later time.

Heat-retention cooking is somewhat similar, and can be used with heat storage devices. It provides layers of insulation around a cook pot to retain the internal cooking temperature initially reached by other means, but does not generate additional heat on its own.


  • Cooking is possible in the evening.
  • Cooking temperatures remain stable if the sun goes behind clouds.
  • The solar cooker is already up to temperature when ingredients are added to the pot.
  • Cooking is often able to be done inside, in a remote location.


Muni Seva Ashram Scheffler array (India Herald), 12-19-16

The Muni Seva Ashram, has converted its steam-based Scheffler solar cooking array to use thermic fluid to be able to provide nighttime cooking. - Photo credit: India Herald

  • NEW: December 2016: Ashram switches from steam to thermic solar cooking - The Muni Seva Ashram, located in Goraj, Vadodara, India, has converted its steam-based Scheffler solar cooking array to use thermic fluid, with heat storage capabilities, to be able to provide nighttime cooking. This is the first such conversion in India, where many existing Scheffler reflector systems are currently in use. The new thermic fluid system also provides the ability to roast, bake, and fry foods, within comfort of the kitchen, not possible with the steam-based system. Read more...
ARUN 100 award, India, 5-17-16
  • May 2016: Solar thermal excellence award - Ramakrishna Mission Students’ Home in Chennai was recently conferred with an award for Concentrated Solar Thermal Excellence (CST) for their Solar Cooking System by MNRE, Government of India. The award was given for the school's installation of the ARUN 100 institutional solar steam generating and heat storage system. Award for excellence - NYOOOZ
  • March 2016: Antonia Lecouna Neumann reports: "We use erythritol as heat storage material, cheap, durable, edible and has a melting heat similar to ice. We found it superior to other alternatives although long term durability is still an issue."
  • December 2015: Experimentation with sensible heat storage and lessons learned - Mik Hartwell used a recycled satellite disk and a cluster of steel rods for a heat sink, to see if he could cook a meal after the sun had set. The rods got very hot, cooking a meal and holding heat for several hours, but were difficult to work with. Read more...
  • July 2015: Advances continue in molecular heat storage possibilities - Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, Jeffery Grossman explains how molecular heat storage research is advancing. Solar cooking is a prime candidate for this potentially game changing process to allow cooking early in the morning or in the evening. Specific molecules are able to store heat energy when exposed to sunlight, and release it at a desired time when stimulated by a catalyst. * Update January 2016: MIT researchers feel their discovery might not be suited for solar cooking.
Solar fuel - MIT Professor Jeffrey Grossman01:48

Solar fuel - MIT Professor Jeffrey Grossman

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) professor, Jeffery Grossman explains how potential molecular heat storage research is advancing. Solar cooking is a prime candidate for its use.

Morpho Solar, IEEE Spectrum, 10-9-14

Guro Seim, the CEO of Morpho Solar, and Catlin Powers, COO of One Earth Designs, prepare a meal on a SolSourcesolar cooker. - Morpho Solar

  • October 2014: Norwegian start-up tackles heat storage for solar cookers - Guro Seim, CEO of Morpho Solar, announced a breakthrough in the heat storage capabilities for solar cookers. They hope to have a production model ready within a year and a half. The breakthrough was recognized with a $8,000 USD award from the Norwegian Ministry of Petroleum and Energy this past August. The company will begin selling the cooker in Europe, and under an agreement with Cambridge, Mass.-based One Earth Designs in the United States. Read more...
  • August 2104: Steam heat storage system used for institutional cooking in India - Ram Krishna Mission Student’s Home, Chennai, India wanted to adopt solar cooking system for its hostel. However the desired cooking times and the availability of sunshine was not matching up. Breakfast is cooked at 4.00 a.m. and lunch cooking starts at 7.00 a.m., while dinner is cooked after 5.00 p.m. A steam-based system, the ARUN®100, with heat storage was designed and commissioned on October 26, 2013. Read more about it at: ARUN®100 with Thermal Storage at Ramkrishna Mission, Chennai - Ajay Chandak
  • April 2014: A molecular approach to solar heat storage Researchers MIT and Harvard University have posted promising results from experiments involving energizing photo-switching molecules, known as azobenzene, to store solar heat gain for extended periods. The molecules are then triggered much later to release their energy for uses requiring heat. Apparently the approach will not be effective for generating electricity, but cooking is a prime candidate. Read more at: A molecular approach to solar power.

Types of heat storage

  • Sensible heat storage: This means holding heat in a material without changing its phase when heat is added or removed. Rocks and bricks are examples, which become hot, but remain solid. Oil may also be used, remaining a liquid. More heat is able to be be stored in oil than in other liquids such as water, since water can only be raised to 100 °C (212 °F) without pressurizing it.
  • Latent heat storage: This is usually accomplished by using solar heat to melt or gasify a special material, and then when the heat is needed, it is drawn from said material. As it re-solidifies, or re-liquifies, it releases this heat. A large amount of heat can be stored this way, and the temperature during melting or solidification remains constant. The material must melt at a "reasonable" temperature, hot enough to begin and complete the cooking of food, but also low enough to be attainable using solar energy. It must also be reasonably non-toxic, stable, easy to work with, and of course affordable. Salt, Erythritol, and citric acid may be candidates. Another latent heat storage approach is to chemically change a medium, usually under intense heat, and then when it is changed back to it's original form, heat for cooking is released. Research is being done using quicklime (CaO) as this type of medium.

Sensible heat storage examples

Solar Rice Cooker

Solar Rice Cooker

Solar Rice Cooker

The late Christopher Jordan working in Cambodia, experimented with various styles of solar cookers appropriate for use in locations fairly close to the equator. He became interested in finding ways to extend the available cooking time to early evening. He preferred a simple 'V' shape cooker with fairly tall reflector sides. See: Solar Rice Cooker. The design allows space for dark-colored rocks or bricks to be placed under the cooking pot. Acting like a thermal flywheel, the rocks will soak up heat all day, and give it back in the evening. However, regardless of the style cooker, the rocks need to be insulated to retain their heat, once the sun nears the horizon. He did some experimentation with rock salt as a storage medium, but found it too viscous to be practical. Each locale should each have a viable source of dark-colored rocks, bricks, or sand to use however.

Heat retention solar oven

A solar cooker that economically adds both mass and super-insulation as part of the design, is possibly best suited to a solar box cooker approach. This will require a dimensionally larger cooker to fit enough insulation and mass. Also, initial heat-up times will increase to reach working cooking temperatures. The transparent glass panel will need an insulated cover to be placed when solar gain is not available. However, the ovens may be able to reach higher temperatures than are typically achieved, and hold that heat into the evening, and possibly overnight. An oven may take a couple days to reach maximum output. Because of the higher temperature potential, and the prospect that ovens be left out, always on, in all-weather conditions, oven construction materials will need to be non-combustible and weatherproof.

Scheffler heat storage system (sensible)

Research is also continuing with incorporating a Scheffler reflector with a heat storage unit. The Scheffler reflector has shown to be an effective way to concentrate heat input to the storage device, with minimal loss of temperature due to not requiring an heat exchanging mechanism. Intense sunlight is focused at an absorption plate attached to an insulated concrete block located inside of the kitchen wall. The block has a system of imbedded metal rods to help evenly distribute the heat within the storage device. It will be important to cover the absorption plate at night, and use insulated covers over the cook plates on top of the storage block when they are not being used for cooking. Early testing has shown cooking in the evening will be possible hours after the sun has set, and potentially early the next morning as well. Read more about the research: Construction and Improvement of a Scheffler Reflector and Thermal Storage Device, November, 2010 - Jason Rapp

Latent heat storage examples

Quicklime heat storage

The use of quicklime(CaO) for heat storage is not a new concept. Under intense heat, water vapor is released from calcium hydroxide and quicklime is created. Then at a later time, water can be added back to the quicklime, releasing its heat for cooking. It has been proposed that a community Scheffler reflector would have the capacity to 'charge' CaO units for approximately twenty-five families each day. Families could pick-up their unit of CaO and return to their homes where the CaO would be placed in a special cooker. Cooking heat is controlled by regulating the amount of water added back to the CaO. Benefits of such an approach will allow cooking to happen when the user wishes, inside the home and at night. The materials involved are widely available and nontoxic. Read more: Development and Testing of a Regenerative Rechargable Solar Stove System

Self-contained cooking module

Sun Buckets cooking indoors, 1-4-17

Cooking indoors on a charged Sun Bucket. Photo credit: Sun Buckets

The quest for finding a reasonably compact unit that may easily slip inside a solar box, evacuated tube solar cooker, or pre-charged with a solar panel or parabolic reflector, has been attempted by a number of designers. One company, Sun Buckets, claims to have a working prototype, and hopes to have it available in the marketplace in 2017.

Evaporative cooling

Sometimes it is desirable to keep fresh foods cool, rather than focusing on gathering and storing heat for cooking purposes. A simple evaporative cooler can provide a solution. The Pot-in-pot cooler uses two clay pots, one inside the other, separated by a sand barrier. The sand is saturated with water and the cooler is covered with a wet towel. As the water slowly evaporates, heat is taken from the clay pots, keeping perishable food inside cool and fresh for some time.

Audio and video

  • June 2016:
Sun Buckets Solstice02:09

Sun Buckets Solstice

Here are some images of solar cooking with stored thermal energy using Sun Buckets. Happy solstice, everyone!

  • January 2016:
Antonio Lecuona ConSolFood 2016 presentation21:12

Antonio Lecuona ConSolFood 2016 presentation

"Solar cooking with heat storage: experiments using PCM and figures of merit for solar cookers" Antonio LECUONA NEUMANN, José I. Nogueira Goriba, Rubén Ventas Garzón from theDepartamento de Ingeniería Térmica y de Fluidos , grupo ITEA of the University of Carlos III-Madrid, Spain. Presented at CONSOLFOOD 2016, Faro, Portugal January 23rd, 2016.

  • July 2014:
Phuong, Guerra, Pham Solar Cooking at Night15:33

Phuong, Guerra, Pham Solar Cooking at Night

Black Rock Grill Rock Pot, Stone Bowl, Shabu Shabu Hot Pot07:50

Black Rock Grill Rock Pot, Stone Bowl, Shabu Shabu Hot Pot

Stoneware pot cooks using a heated rock slab placed inside, another example of sensible heat storage.


  • September 2014: Molton Salt Solar Cooker - Jitendra kumar Dash, Omprakash Parida, Swastik Tripathy and Sagar Dutta, Silicon Institute of Technology, Bhubaneswar, India

Articles in the media

See also

External links

  • November 2009: Wolfgang Scheffler discussed thermal storage in an interview: "We did some samples. We did a small iron which we used in Portugal in some installations for many years. Because it's small, 50 kilograms of iron is just a few litres, you know, it's like six litres of iron, so it's quite small, so it still cools down a lot. Like when you have 450 degrees in the evening, in the morning you have 300 degrees. If you increase the mass of iron, like what you talked about, like 300, 400 kilograms, then that drop is only 50 degrees overnight. But then the next day you still have a lot of energy to cook and to use."[1]

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