Dordt College News

Matching fuel quality with its use

March 14, 2014

Lee Veldkamp is an engineering major and also a Kuyper Scholar’s Program (KSP) minor. For one of his required KSP projects this year, Veldkamp decided to relate what he’s learned in engineering to a concrete choice people could make in their daily living. He found the perfect one on Pinterest—a solar pop can heater.

“Dordt’s engineering program encourages us to think about ways to be sustainable in our use of resources,” he says. So, he looked for a project that might help people make good use of those resources. He also wanted to make something practical.

Using more than 200 pop cans, some old window glass, and small amounts of wood, paint, and insulation, Veldkamp built a four-foot by six-foot flat box that can help heat a room or a building such as a garage.

Veldkamp props his heater against the south wall of a building and then can direct the warm air flow through a window. The basic idea is to have air entering the bottom of the box pass through pop cans and flow into the building by convection. The natural convection that happens as the air heats sends warm air into the room and can be made more efficient by adding a small fan.

“Solar heaters became popular in the 80s,” says Veldkamp, “but many commercial ones were poorly constructed and did not work well.”  Nevertheless, a simple solar air heater is relatively easy to build and can generate a surprising amount of heat.

“I’m interested in finding ways to use the right fuels for the right uses,” says Veldkamp, explaining that while powering a car needs a strong, dense fuel, heating air doesn’t.

“It’s good to match qualities—to use low quality energy for low energy needs and high quality fuel for high energy needs.”

“This heater will keep a small building or well-insulated room significantly warmer on a sunny winter day,” he says. “It really is realistic to think that people can affect their heat needs with similar devices.” He knows of someone who heats his barn this way.

Veldkamp acknowledges that the cost of using more insulation and solar heaters will make strict economic sense only if it replaces a furnace. But says it makes a great deal of sense if you want to use fuels that can do the job without using resources that might be better saved for other uses. 

Veldkamp, who plans to teach science and engineering after he graduates, says he’d take the heater with him if he had a house. But it’s a bit big to carry along with him at this point. Maybe someday he’ll make another one when he has the space.


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