Anyone who spent time outside with a magnifying glass as a kid is aware of the instrument’s power to generate a staggering amount of heat and even start a fire when hit with sunlight. Designer Jelle Seegers harnesses that practice in a new project he presented as part of the Design Academy Eindhoven student show at this year’s Dutch Design Week.
“The Solar Metal Smelter” uses a square polycarbonate sheet that Seegers carved with circles to mimic the convex lens of a magnifying glass. Extending about five meters wide, the material is embedded in a frame made from upcycled stainless steel, with an attached hand crank that needs to be turned every ten minutes to keep the sun focused on the correct spot. Once heated, the smelter reaches up to 1,000 degrees Celsius and can liquefy zinc, aluminum, and other metals that are then poured into various sand molds. The designer estimates that the device generates about four kilowatts of energy.
In a conversation with Dezeen, Seegers shares that he produced the machine to reduce the reliance on electricity and to better utilize the sun’s power. He says:
Electrical solar panels, they never have an efficiency of more than about 20 percent. Only 20 percent of the sunlight gets converted into electricity, so we need a huge amount of solar panels to create a huge amount of electrical energy. But if you just take the sun’s heat, and you only bend it and direct it, you don’t need to do this complex conversion to electricity. And for that reason, you can achieve an efficiency of about 95 percent.
Seegers plans to scale up the project in the coming months and has been working on a variety of carbon-neutral machines, including the pedal-powered tool grinder shown below. For a similar solar-powered design, check out this sinter that uses sunlight and sand to make glass.
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