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Using solar energy to make sun-baked tortillas and chart a new energy course for Mexico’s poor

LatinaLista — After the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year when the world watched in horror as Japan battled nuclear meltdowns, the release of radioactive materials in their land, food and water supplies and tackled the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, some world leaders decided to chart a new energy future for their own countries by going back to basics. Namely, solar energy.

German Gregor Schappers shows a bread oven heated with solar energy at his home in El Sauz, Hidalgo state, Mexico, in November 2012.

One of the most unlikely countries to abandon nuclear energy in favor of solar and other alternative renewables was Germany. Immediately after Japan’s disaster, Germany closed eight of their nuclear plants and is on course to shut down the remaining nine by 2022. While the country is discovering that depending on solar energy isn’t as reliable as nuclear energy, the commitment to solar and other ‘basic’ sources of energy is resolute and has spread among its citizens.

Gregor Schapers is a German ex-pat who, since 2003, has called El Sauz, Mexico home. Located north of Mexico City in the state of Hidalgo, El Suaz is home to a largely rural and poor people, the perfect population, according to the budding entrepreneur, to test his new solar cooker that makes ‘sun-baked’ tortillas.

Schapers adapted current solar technology on the global market to create a stove that uses reflectors made of glass and aluminum panels. The reflectors range in size from 107 square feet to 170 square feet. Capturing the sun’s rays, the reflectors can generate temperatures as high as 1,868 degrees Fahrenheit.

The heat then travels to the cooker where it is shared between a cauldron, a griddle to make tortillas, and an oven. According to Schapers, each reflector can cook for up to 60 people — all in an environmentally friendly way and with no fear of greenhouse gas emissions.

To help spread the technology throughout Mexico, which Schapers admits is not cheap to build, but can save the equivalent of 16 gallons of gas each month, he has created his own company TrinySol.

The socially conscious businessman sees the technology as a win-win for Mexico’s poor since once the initial cost of the oven is paid, between $4,000 and $5,000 depending on the size, it will provide free energy for its users.

Like a good businessman, Schapers is already looking ahead to diversify use of the solar technology by looking beyond tortillas: a greenhouse project; honey production; and a system for steam baths.

In an interview with AFP, Schapers said, “At first people here in the region were very skeptical about the usefulness of my project,” But he said the finished product has won them over.

“Once they saw the facilities and what we can do with these reflectors, they realized that they work.”

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