Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The Temperature of What?

So I had all these posts about temperature logging and one post with the actual logged temperatures...but the temperature of what?

A solar hot box!

You probably already know what this is, but just in case you don't: It's basically a tiny greenhouse. Or like a car left in the sun at noon in August. Only it's even hotter, since it is insulated, painted black and pointed right at the sun.

Inside the box I put a jar with 250 ml of cooking oil and poked a hole in the lid for a temperature probe. That's what these temps are.

Why did I choose cooking oil? Because I didn't want evaporation to be a problem. For one thing, it would fog up the inside of the glass. For another, it would cap my max temperature at 100°C (not that that turned out to be a problem in this case). And lastly, it would change the amount of water in the bottle and I needed that to be a constant because I did some calculations with it.

Knowing the amount of oil and the temperature change (plus looking up the specific heat of vegetable oil), I can calculate the rate at which energy is entering the oil. For the above graph, I got 2.5 watts for the steepest part of the curve. However, I see that the site I just linked to has the specific heat of veg oil as 1.67 kJ/kg K and I was using 2.5. So maybe the power is really more like 3.7 watts.

Knowing the area of the collector I can also calculate the amount of power falling into the box. That's about 75 watts. So the end-to-end efficiency was only about 3-5%. Not that great.

Imagine if you put a cup of water on the table and then turn the furnace thermostat up to 90°. How much energy are you going to waste before the water gets hot? This illustrates the 3 main problems:

  1. Air passively surrounding a container of liquid isn't going to heat it very fast.
  2. There's a lot of volume of air being heated uselessly.
  3. During all this time, heat is escaping the cracks, windows, chimney, etc. In the case of the hot box, the glass front gets very hot and is radiating a lot of the energy right back out.
If a hot box is like an oven, the next version will be like a microwave. Don't heat up the air, just beam energy right into the substance.

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