Vivek’s been at it. His initiative not only set a Guinness Book of World Records in 2013 but has also broken it twice. Early this year, 4780 participants celebrated the power of the sun by cooking together using their own solar cookers [+]. He now has a dream to celebrate Suryakumbh with 1,00,000 participants from across the globe who will cook at the very same time.
No mean feat, but having seen the fruits of his efforts of 3 years, I believe this is possible. He wants as many people to own an Ecoo, an indigenous solar cooker that has taken around 7 years to perfect. You might ask yourself, do these things actually work? Before we delve into what Ecoo is all about, here are a few pictures on what the cooker looks like.
This is a marvel, just holding it in my hands; I feel it is the most amazing product that I have held lately? What are the efforts that have gone behind making the Ecoo?
Ecoo is the result of 3 years of R&D and 40 different prototypes. Every component of it has been optimally designed to give a powerful performance and yet occupy minimal space. We’ve been hosting this unique solar festival called Suryakumbh and over 1 lakh children have participated in it till date. Ecoo is also a result of their creative inputs and feedback.
There is symmetry to the design. What is the thought behind this?
I’ve always loved Zen and its beauty, simplicity & focus on minimalism. I wanted to bring a natural beauty in the design that tempts the viewer to fall in love with it. The symmetry of the reflector, it’s every single curve & crease, its color has been incorporated to bring that experience.
It’s a complete shift from the traditional solar cooker. It’s so light (just 300g) that even a child can carry it on her palm and folds into a compact size of 18x18x18 cm, thereby easily slipping into a backpack.
How does this work? You do need the sun, but what intensity? What are the various parameters needed for this to work?
Of course you’ll need sun, direct visible Sun at that. It won’t work in cloudy weather. You can begin using it from 8 am -4 pm in summer and 9 am -3 pm in winter. Technically you need a solar intensity of at least 400 W/m2.
The way Ecoo works is it collects & concentrates maximum Sunlight on a small area, the black utensil converts this concentrated light into Heat and the transparent cover traps this heat to raise the temperature that makes cooking possible.
Time required for cooking will vary with Solar Intensity, type of food being cooked & its quantity.
We wanted cooking with Ecoo to be a hassle free experience. Hence, it’s been designed such that once you’ve placed it in the Sun, you need not adjust, track or monitor it in any fashion. You just place it & forget. Food won’t burn or overcook and will stay hot for 3 hours after it’s been cooked. More so it’ll have more nutrients retained as compared to any other cooking method.
What kind of utensils will be needed to cook in the Ecoo? Can we use regular cookware?
Ecoo is accompanied with its specially designed utensil.
The way any solar cooker will work is it’ll heat the external surface of the utensil. But since the aim is to cook the food that is inside, the utensil must be able to transfer this heat from outside to inside in the shortest time. The utensil should also require minimum heat for itself to get at that temperature.
Hence, the utensil must be conductive, thin and as light as possible for the best experience. It must also be black on the outer side to convert light into heat.
So, it’d b difficult to use a regular cookware satisfying all these parameters.
What kind of food can be cooked here? On how many different food products have you tried cooking with Ecoo? Will it be possible to share the respective time durations needed to cook them?
Generally speaking Ecoo can Boil, Bake and Roast.
It can Boil eggs, corn, potato, tomato, and all green vegetables without using water.
It can cook noodles, pasta, rice, khichadi, pualo, poha, upma, sheera.
It can brew green tea & soup and also bake exotic cakes, cookies, dhokla & idli.
Time varies with intensity, type & quantity of food.
But in a good sun, Noodles should take 20-30 min, Cake should take 40-60 min, Rice 60-90 min, and pulses 90-120 min.
How do you plan to make this product more accessible? Will it be available online or at retail stores?
What are the growth plans? With crowd funding, what are the important milestones that you wish to reach?
The first of course is to reach $10,000. This will help us get the ball rolling with the required tooling. But more than the funds, the crowd funding allows us to evaluate Ecoo and Suryakumbh as a concept across the globe. I think that’s powerful.
You are looking to raise funds, how do you plan to use that?
All the funds will go into making quality tools that’ll allow us to mass manufacture Ecoo with same precision, beauty and performance.
Can an Ecoo be increased in size? What limitations do you see with the Ecoo?
To a certain limit yes we can increase Ecoo’s size and capacity. We’re already working on a family size version.
Of course there are many limitations. You can’t fry things or roast rotis. You can’t cook during night as there is no storage. You can’t cook indoors. These are things that add resistance to acceptability, but I believe these are also the things that make it more fun. Uncertainty adds the flair of adventure to the process of solar cooking.
What are the future developmental plans? What more can be done through Ecoo in terms of product extensions?
Plenty of stuff. I see it evolving into three segments – educational, trekking camping accessory and daily use home appliance.
What’s the story and inspiration behind Ecoo?
Actually a very long story, let me try to put it briefly. I was 6 when my family got its first solar cooker. My Mom would cook everything possible in it and hence, I’ve experienced firsthand the potential and beauty of solar cookers.
For 3 years I struggled to take my designs into the market and find mass level consumer acceptance. And at some point I realized that if we can’t propagate solar cooking through adults, we should try through children.
So in 2012 we conducted our first class with 42 children making their own solar ovens, cooking different recipes and then sharing that experience with others by experimenting with different recipes back home. That first class was magical. The reaction from parents, teachers and children was so overwhelming that we got inspired to take it to the next level.
So over the years it transformed into a festival of Suryakumbh which has been experienced by over 1 lakh children, and recognized as World’s Largest Solar Cooking Class by Guinness World Records – twice.
Then few years back a trekker friend challenged me to design a solar cooker that he can carry in a backpack and cook even on the Himalayas. I said lets design something that even a 3 year old could use to cook her meal.
And that’s how, after several iterations and prototypes, Ecoo came into being. It is as much a toy to a child as a necessity to trekkers or campers. After all what else can cook without fuel, fire, wire or even water?
How does Ecoo align with your goals and mission for Suryakumbh? One is a festival while another a cooker.
Suryakumbh as a festival aims at inspiring millions of children to devise happy, sustainable & all inclusive solutions.
The basic premise is that if a child cooks his very first meal without fuel, smoke & fire in an atmosphere that empowers him with a belief that he can make a difference in the World, not only will his approach towards harnessing solar energy will change forever but more importantly his vision of what he can do with his life will expand like never before.
No matter what he chooses to do next, he will always remember that there is a possibility of doing something bigger than him. And I feel that’s extremely powerful but really intangible.
Now, to hold a World Record level event is time & resource intensive. And frankly it’s not possible to reach everyone with such direct festivals.
The idea with Ecoo is that if you could devise a beautiful product that can pull people towards it, you can use it as a tool to create something impossible.
So, with Ecoo our short term target is to celebrate the spirit of Suryakumbh with 100,000 users across the globe by cooking the same recipe on the same day.
Yes it’ll be a new World Record, it’ll be historical, and it’ll be super crazy and all that. But most importantly it’d kindle the imagination of millions with the possibilities that we don’t even dream of today and give wings to a new reality that each one of us can be proud of.
To know more about Suryakumbh, the solar festival, visit suryakumbh.com