Engineering Students Develop Solar-Powered Autoclave

The device would be used to sterilize medical instruments in parts of the world without reliable electricity.

Engineering students at Rice University have developed a solar-powered autoclave to provide sterilization of medical instruments in places where fuel and electricity are scarce or unreliable, according to a recent report by Mike Williams of the Rice News staff.

The Capteur Soleil device is a modification of a device made long ago by French inventor Jean Boubour. The senior mechanical engineering students developed a solar-powered cookstove two years ago, and then Team Sterilize modified it further this year, according to Williams' report. He describes it as a combination of curved mirrors and an insulated box containing the autoclave. It makes steam by focusing sunlight along a steel tube at the top of the metal frame, then the steam is used to head a conductive hotplate.

"It basically becomes a stovetop, and you can heat anything you need to," said Sam Major, a member of the team with seniors Daniel Rist, David Luker, and William Dunk. "As long as the autoclave reaches 121 Celsius for 30 minutes [the standard set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention], everything should be sterile, and we've found we're able to do that pretty easily," Major added, according to the report.

Good midday sun can heat the device to the proper temperature in about 40 minutes, Major said.

The team's faculty adviser, Doug Schuler, is an associate professor of business and public policy at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business.

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