Autoclave Quality Sterilization in Remote Settings for Less Than $200
My wife many years ago worked in a dental clinic. One of her responsibilities was taking discarded dental instruments and cleaning them in a device called an autoclave. Autoclaves use high pressure steam (15 pounds per square inch) at temperatures well above boiling (121 Celsius or 250 Fahrenheit) for a period of 20 minutes to ensure that anything put in them gets sterilized for potential reuse. In a world with abundant energy achieving this standard doesn't represent a problem, but what happens when you are somewhere in the Developing World, off the power grid with no access to electricity, and you need to do surgery or a dental procedure?
Sterile instruments are critical for lots of medical uses from obstetrics and gynecology to treatment of wounds, to dental work and surgical procedures. For 50% of clinics in rural settings that serve 3 billion of the people on our planet sterile medical instruments is a luxury. Without access to electricity these remote clinics have no adequate method of ensuring sterilization. Boiling instruments is not enough. Dipping instruments in alcohol doesn't do the trick either. That's why 25% of patients undergoing surgical procedures in rural settings end up with post-operative infections.
That's why a team of Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers decided to develop a way to sterilize medical instruments using sunlight. They call their invention the Solarclave. The device can be assembled from local materials and is portable. The heat is generated by focusing sunlight at a closed, pressurized container using 140 mirrors, each 7.62 centimeters square (3 by 3 inches). It takes 90 minutes for the solar reflectors to raise the interior temperature of the container to 121 Celsius.
As seen in the images below, the Solarclave largely uses locally-sourced materials and commonly available technology to manufacture it. Total cost of materials is less than $200 US.
The manufacturing components include:
- 140 mirrors to make the reflector
- an old pressure cooker in working condition
- several plastic buckets which can be cut for housing the pressure cooker
- fiberglass insulation to retain the heat
- plywood to build the box and frames for placing and aligning the mirrors
- a temperature indicator and a timer
- a wheel-barrel style metal stand
The Solarclave can be scaled up by 50% to serve larger health centres and hospitals. And it has other uses as well. Locals can build separate units to as solar ovens for cooking, or solar water distillers to create clean drinking water.
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KEEP UP WITH WFS NEWS & UPCOMING EVENTS
October 5, 2015 - All the boxes have been unpacked. All the cupboards are stuffed to the gills. Finally I can begin to get back to what I like doing, writing about science, technology and the future.
October 2, 2015 - This last week has proven to be tougher than both my wife and I thought. Moving at our age leads to lots of aches and pains. There is only so much that these old bones and muscles can endure before they protest seeking acetaminophen or something stronger to stop the ache.
Money is the primary mechanism for storing and exchanging value, especially in our daily purchases, and it’s heading rapidly into a faster, smarter and more mobile future. Nevertheless, the constant in the midst of change will remain levels of human trust in the proliferating forms of money.
September 23, 2015 - In 2015 437 companies so far have factored carbon emissions in their financial planning.
September 22, 2015 - There are no geopolitical boundaries when it comes to the atmosphere. The molecules of air I exhale right now at some point may find their way to China and back again.
September 21, 2015 - One of the most interesting 21st century phenomenon is the rise of an entirely new type of business built on the infrastructure of the Internet and designed not just to make money but to provide a public benefit as well. In the past public benefit was something delivered by government. Think libraries and hospitals.
September 20, 2015 - Star Trek IV The Voyage Home featured humpback whales and a scene in which Scotty and Dr. McCoy offered a company in San Francisco the secret to transparent aluminum, a material not yet invented at the time. Dr. McCoy questioned whether the disclosure would alter the future.
September 18, 2015 - If the entire Antarctic continent were to melt it would add 58 meters (190 feet) to world sea levels. The real question is how much additional carbon in the atmosphere would be needed for this scenario to play out?