Low-Cost Solar System Sterilizes Medical Devices

Autoclaves, the devices used to sterilize medical tools, require a steady supply of pressurized steam which is usually provided by electrical or fuel-powered boilers. In rural areas, power can be unreliable, and fuel is expensive. Researchers from MIT  and the Indian Institute of Technology have developed a way to generate the needed steam passively, using just the power of sunlight. The device would require a solar collector of about two yards to power a typical small-clinic autoclave and could maintain safe, sterile equipment at low cost in remote locations. The key to the new system is the use of optically transparent aerogel that is made of silica and consists mostly of air. The material provides effective thermal insulation and reduces the rate of heat loss by ten times.