1 Comment »Posted on Monday 13 April 2009 at 2:12 pm by Seth Bell
In Climate Change & Environment, Inventions & Technology

The Kyoto box isn’t just a theory. It’s just a box (well technically it’s two, but that just sounds less snappy.) It’s a solar cooker made from cardboard boxes which won the Climate Change Challenge, a $75,000 prize organised by Forum For The Future. For the Kenyan-based entrepreneur behind it, Jon Bøhmer, it’s a bit like winning Dragon’s Den. Except it has the potential to save millions of lives. Almost as good as Levi Roots’ Reggae Reggae sauce?

How to assemble: Take one cardboard box (ask at your local Tesco if you don’t have one lying around), cover in silver foil. Place newspaper at bottom of box for insulation. Place second cardboard box inside and paint black. Cover top of second box with acrylic to trap sun-rays.

That’s it. Sounds like half an episode of Art Attack, or a particularly good GCSE technology project. Except this disarmingly simple box can cook stuff using the power of the sun alone and it only costs 5 Euros to make at a manufacturing level. Apparently it can reach over 100 degrees no problem. Perhaps the most amazing part is that no one has had this idea before (or if they have, that they failed to market it successfully).

The Kyoto box is very good news for the population of developing countries for a whole host of reasons. First, it offers a very cheap and easy way to sterilize water.  Second, for the three billion people who still rely on firewood for cooking the Kyoto box offers a wood-free method of cooking. Not only is this better for the environment, but it’s also safer – apparently 1.6 million women and children die from smoke inhalation during indoor cooking every year.

So I’m a fan, as were the judges (who included my old boss Richard Branson) and the prize money will be used to trial the Kyoto box in 10 different countries, including South Africa and India. 

The appeal of the Kyoto box is not just its potential to save lives, but its simplicity.  If you read the About page for Just A Theory, Jacob warns us of the danger of journalists who dumb down science. How do you dumb down the Kyoto box? You can’t, and this is the joy of this story. There is no elaborate scientific experiment or incomprehensible statistics for us to struggle with, because the concept behind the Kyoto box is beautiful in its simplicity. 

For me, science is at its best when clever thinking about simple ideas leads to a remarkable result (such as when Einstein developed Special Relativity using only high school mathematics) and the Kyoto box is a prime example of this. I’m all in favour of complicated experiments and expensive particle accelerators, but scientists would do well to remember that sometimes a small, simple idea can go a long way.


  1. One Comment

  2. I love simple ideas like this. I’m also intrigued to hear more about you working for Richard Branson…

    By Jacob Aron on Monday 13 April, 2009 at 3:44 pm

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