An elegant, simple solution to Third World cooking smoke: Solar panels and computer fans

Pratik installs one of his fans in a small kitchen in India. (Pratik Vangal)

A Portland ninth-grader has been named one of the top young scientists in the nation for his simple solution to dangerous cooking smoke in Third World kitchens.

“This is the solar panel set up, and as the sunlight falls onto it it’s able to produce the power, and it comes down these wires to the fans, which are all connected together in parallel," said Pratik Vangal as he showed visitors his invention.

Pratik's inspiration for his award-winning, simple solution to the burning of smoky biomass fuels used by three billion people each day started during a visit to India in 2017.

“Around lunch time I looked over to one of the homes and I saw these huge billowing clouds of smoke coming from the poorly ventilated homes,” he said. “I knew that while they were smelling this in and they were inhaling it into their system that it couldn’t have been good for their body.”

When he got home, Pratik went to work designing a cheap, effective way to clear smoke from a room in places where there was no electricity and the average income was one dollar a day.

Why not combine solar power with small fans?

“Because the solar panels produce DC power, I needed low cost fans that required DC power as well,” he said. “So that led me to old desktop computers.”

With the help of small solar panels that were discarded for minor imperfections, and an array of fans, he put his invention to the test.

He re-created a rural kitchen using cardboard packing boxes and placed it in his driveway.

I set off a smoke bomb on the inside and allowed the entire thing to fill with smoke. And then turned on my solution. And then in under a minute I watched as the exhaust was working and it cleared the entire kitchen out.

HIS SOLUTION'S COST? ABOUT 5 DOLLARS

"My solution is able to use the sun’s energy and extract the pollutants before they’re even exposed to them," he said

Pratik entered his invention into the national competition, the Broadcom MASTERS, a program produced by the Society for Science & the Public.

He and 29 other young middle school scientists, including John Madland, a 14-year-old from Howard Street Charter and Mihir Joshi, a 12-year-old from Lewis Middle School in Salem, were chosen from more than 2,500 applicants from 35 states to attend the finals in Washington, D.C. later this month to compete for $100,000 in awards and scholarships.

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