Solar power can steam-sterilize surgical instruments, according to a new study — but the contraption needed to do so is not pocket-size.
Sterilizing instruments needed in surgical emergencies like caesarean births or appendectomies can be a problem in rural clinics in Africa: There may be no electricity, jugs of bleach or tanks of propane.
So a Rice University team modified a prototype of an old solar stove to power a simple autoclave — a pressure-cooker for instruments — and tested it in the Texas sun. On all 27 attempts, it reached U.S. government sterilization standards.
How practical it is awaits African trials; it is nearly 12 feet long and 6 feet tall, and has bright curved mirrors to focus sunlight on a water-filled pipe. On sunny days, it can make steam at 302 degrees Fahrenheit from about 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The initial setup costs about $2,100. But sunlight costs nothing, making five years of operation about $2,000 cheaper than using propane.