Big Island men create solar oven

HAWAII - Without electricity or charcoal, Greg Menke and Dave Flanders have found a way to cook everything from banana bread to turkeys.

They use the power of the sun to heat their 62-cubic foot solar portable oven.

Their oven production company, Solar Chefs, makes ovens that use a combination of solar panels, mirrors, batteries and fans to cook their meals.

Menke, a culinary school graduate, said he got the idea for the oven when the sun overheated the inside of his car.

"My son left a chocolate bar in the car, and it melted everywhere," Menke said. "And I thought, 'We could use the sun to cook.'"

While buying the tempered glass that would serve as the roof of a prototype model, Menke was introduced to Flanders, who previously held jobs as a contractor, glass glazier and wire man. Conveniently, his previous jobs gave him most of the skills he needed to build a solar oven.

"Sometimes you wonder why you're doing all these things," Flanders said. "And then something like this comes along."

Flanders and Menke used the shell of a large, discarded industrial refrigerator as they started work on their oven.

They removed the front, set the glass on and added two levels of mirrors around the top to capture and reflect the sun.

Then they inserted two 12-by-24 inch solar panels that power a 12-volt boat battery. On the inside, a convection fan helps increase heat.

The oven has a propane hookup to assist with warming and for use on cloudy days.

Now the partners are working on getting a product out: banana bread.

The oven can hold up to 120 loaves, and it takes about two hours to make a batch.

"We were thinking of the cheapest thing we could come up with, and we ultimately came to bananas," Menke said.

The Solar Chefs hope to get their oven used by coffee shops, organic producers, farmers markets and area stores.

"We don't need charcoal or wood — just a sunny day," Menke said.

Their next cookout will go beyond banana bread.

For Thanksgiving, they'll be eating a solar-baked turkey.


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