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Ohio firm cooks up new type of solar oven

Special to the Legal News

Published: July 9, 2015

In Patrick Sherwin’s ideal world, technology and nature would combine to create a constant cycle of renewable energy.

“I’m a big believer that nature needs to be used in a very intentional manner where nature can resolve a lot of the pressures that we’ve applied to destroy it,” said Sherwin, founder of GoSun, a Cincinnati-based company that creates solar cookers.

GoSun recently raised over $550,000 through a Kickstarter campaign for its new solar grill, a fuel-free oven that is capable of cooking day or night.

The initial goal was $140,000 and the tidal wave of support speaks to the public’s confidence in GoSun’s technology, which differentiates itself from other solar cookers in several ways.

“Typical solar cookers are one of two things,” Sherwin said. “They are either a satellite dish, rather large, with a huge concentrating area putting a laser beam of sunlight on the bottom of a pan, or they are a box-looking device with a sheet of metal on the top and maybe some reflectors to increase the amount of light that comes in.”

Sherwin’s “original moment of invention” came about 11 years ago when he was involved in the removal of a solar hot water heater, which uses the same tubular mechanism as his cooker.

“I put the tubes to a different purpose and I played with them by simply throwing hot dogs inside,” he said.

The method worked and led to a solar cooker that he calls a game changer in the industry.

When it comes to performance, traditional solar cookers are not nearly as fast or practical as GoSun’s design.

Safety is also a issue: While GoSun stays relatively cool to the touch on the outside, other solar cookers get very hot and dangerous.

“That’s part of why we feel that solar cooking hasn’t really swept around the globe,” said Sherwin.

GoSun’s design uses a unique vacuum tube which acts as an insulator (think the double walls of a Thermos) and a solar battery that allows power to be stored for nighttime cooking or rainy weather.

Sherwin and his team came up with the idea in Guatemala after receiving grant funding from the Global Alliance for Clean Cook Stoves, a United Nations foundation.

“We were down there in the rainy season and we were really challenged with a daily deluge of rain coming in at around 2 or 3 p.m., and if we didn’t get the meal cooked by then, we were out of luck,” Sherwin said. “So we came up with a way to store heat from those first five hours of the day that were sunny and then to utilize that heat in a battery so that you could cook indoors after the rain or after the sun went down.”

In an expansion of that same concept, the GoSun team is now working on using a “phase-change” material, essentially a wax that melts at a certain temperature and, in that process, absorbs heat.

The heat is then available to be released back into the food as it resolidifies later on.

The current iteration of the GoSun Grill runs about $450 in the U.S., according to GoSun’s website, but Sherwin, who has a background in biology and chemistry from Ohio University, is not out to use his invention to serve the wealthy trying to live off the grid.

“One of the world’s biggest issues is that there is 2.5 million people still cooking with wood and charcoal on a daily basis and its leading to all kinds of issues, most important of which is the second leading cause of preventable death in the world due to smoke inhalation,” he said. “A lot of young, female children are cooking indoors in small huts and they are essentially breathing in all the smoke and that really affects their health in a number of ways.”

Sherwin pointed out that environmental degradation due to deforestation and economic issues also put a big strain on families in developing countries.

The lack of access to clean cooking methods also impedes education opportunities for young girls in the developing world.

With a GoSun Grill, a family can load food into a tray that slides out, orient the grill to the sun, and then leave it alone, saving anywhere from two to five hours that they would usually be spending gathering wood and tending a fire.

“We are working to break the cycle of poverty around wood and charcoal consumption and we tested our product and we found that it works,” Sherwin said. “It’s a very easy way to cook and stress free ... You can go about being a mother, tend to a garden and keep young girls in school where they often get pulled out so they can help mom.”

The end goal, Sherwin said, is to support relief organizations in areas of need.

“The U.N. spends billions of dollars annually on feeding people in disaster prone areas but they don’t really do anything to support the cooking of that food,” he said. “We would like to be right there behind them and the American Red Cross and any other relief organization with the appropriate cooking methods in the most appropriate areas.”

Sherwin said his vision is to see food carts running on GoSun’s technology and GoSun cookers in big-box retailers to “really get a conversation going around energy literacy and give solar a foot in the door of American households.”

“I believe our technology fits really well into this regenerative model where things can be way better, not just a little more efficient, but these things then take on a life of their own and if you plant the right tree, a few years from now you have more than enough fruit from that tree,” Sherwin said. “The question then becomes, what do we do with the abundance? What do we do with the excess of solar energy since we have so much to give?”

Sherwin is mostly self-taught in the renewable energy arena. After he left Cincinnati following high school, he said he lived all over the world, including the Caribbean, where the island environment taught him about dynamics of renewable resources and helped develop his mentality.

Five years ago, he returned to Cincinnati.

“I’m really happy to be building a business in Ohio because of how industrious and loyal and trustworthy the people are; I don’t think I could be doing this in California,” he said.

Although GoSun outsources much of its manufacturing (the specialized vacuum tubes are not manufactured anywhere in the U.S.) some products and all of their prototypes are built using either their own workshop or makerspaces.

“BuildMore has been very instrumental in the creation of GoSun,” Sherwin said of the makerspace located in Dublin. “Brian Blum is just a fantastic production engineer.”

At 37, Sherwin said he is happy for those people who make sacrifices in order to work on a technology and mission in which they truly believe.

“It’s taken everything that I could possibly bring together, its taken every resource and every dollar that I ever made in my life to make this company come to life,” he said. “I’m really happy to be in Ohio, engaging my network and getting some really talented, hard working individuals who are willing to take a really low salary in order to build this.”

More information about GoSun’s mission and products can be found at GoSunStove.com.

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