Solar Heating With Aluminum Soda Cans

In many ways the home energy business is still the playground of backyard inventors and hobbyists. Most home energy projects are for fun, woefully inefficient, or complete flights of fancy. But sometimes a simple idea can work. The key word here is “can.” A resourceful Canadian innovator has come up with a novel method of solar heating using aluminum cans. Here’s how he does it.

The principal behind a solar collector panel is not new. A hot metal tool heated by the sun is a good example. Pick up the tool, it’s hot! I’ve literally burned my fingers picking up a framing square left in the sun. Low tech solar collectors generally transfer heat from the sun to water or air. Water can freeze and requires fairly sophisticated assembly to eliminate leaks. Air is less dense and absorbs heat slower. Jim Meaney, of Newfoundland, Canada experimented for many years before he hit on the idea of using aluminum cans to form tubes in a solar collector array for heating air. Aluminum has excellent thermal conductivity. The thin aluminum used to form cans allows almost instant heat transfer to air.

The basic configuration of the soda can solar heater is a rectangular unit 44 by 88 inches. The unit is four inches high at the edges and bows up to eight inches at the center. Tubes are formed from cans with tops and bottoms cut out. Fifteen tubes attach to a manifold on each end. Exposed surfaces within the collector assembly including the tubes are painted black to assist in thermal transfer. As air within the tubes heats up check valves, or baffles open and a fan forces the heated air to circulate. When air temperature drops the fan stops and baffles close. Small Intake and output registers draw and expel air from within a heated room. The check valves prevent heated room air from flowing back into the collector unit.

This is an intriguing application of aluminum cans. This type of solar collector probably wouldn’t be a primary source of heat but should provide substantial assist to conventional heaters. Mr. Meaney has formed a small company, Cansolair Inc., to market his solar panels. You can view an informative video here. The idea is so simple and materials so readily available that anyone can experiment with their own version of soda can solar collector. Backyard inventing has never been easier.


U.S. DOE Renewable Energy

Gerald spent many years in the construction field as a general and electrical contractor before moving into commercial and industrial technical services. He has great interest in renewable and alternative energy sources for the homeowner and experiments on his own.

In between writing jobs Gerald designs and builds wood composite kayaks, canoes, and other small boats. His varied experiences and interests give him a rich and unique perspective from which to write. Ge…  View profile