Solarclave: A solar-powered sterilizer for surgical equipment

November 11, 2012

Recently, we posted a link on Facebook concerning the work of Innovations in International Health (IIH), an innovation platform that develops medical technologies for the developing world. The international and multidisciplinary team of researchers is based at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. They seek to invent health technologies that are not only appropriate for local conditions in developing countries, but also affordable.

One wonderful example of their successful work is a solar-powered autoclave called Solarclave. The device helps to solve a significant problem in rural villages where insufficiently sterilized medical equipment often leads to life-threatening infections that could have been avoided through proper sterilization. The autoclave, usually used as sterilization instrument, needs electricity – a resource that rural clinics often don’t have at their disposal. Solarclave is independent of the grid using the sun for sterilization.

All you need for the construction of a Solarclave is a pressure cooker, a bucket and small mirrors to produce a large reflector. This reflector concentrates sunrays thereby providing the heat energy needed for sterilization. The pressure vessel, positioned at the focus of the reflector, holds the surgical equipment. Similar to a thermos bottle, the container (encased by the bucket) is insulated with fiberglass in order to keep the heat inside, reaching 120°C.

The device has a great impact for patients in rural villages and clinics. Less than $150 is needed for the supplies that are locally-sourced which makes manufacturing possible on the ground. Students, nurses and health assistants are trained to construct solarclaves on their own thus also discovering their inventive talents. In Nicaragua the Solar Women of Totogalpa made design contributions such as a wheel barrel style stand or aluminium foil for reflective covering, advancing the technology step by step. Another great advantage is the lightweight construction making transport possible. Now nurses in rural areas don’t have to travel to regional health centres anymore using the sun for sterilization of medical equipment and granting their patients access to safe medical care – independently.

Veit Mathauer
Veit Mathauer

Veit Mathauer is Managing Partner at the PR agency Sympra and responsible for the international communication for the “empowering people. Award”. He studied Economics and Business Administration and worked as a researcher at the Center for International Competitiveness at the Instituto Tecnológico in Monterrey, Mexico. Besides other activities, he also coordinates the guest blogger community.

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