Moving America Forward

Soda Cans and Computer Fans Are Keeping Poor Denver Families Warm

January 13, 2014
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Soda Cans and Computer Fans Are Keeping Poor Denver Families Warm
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
A mechanical engineering professor teaches his students to design inexpensive furnaces.

Aaron Brown, a mechanical engineering professor at Metropolitan State University in Denver, has volunteered in poverty-stricken areas around the world. But now he’s using his expertise to help low-income families in his home city. Brown and his students are building solar-powered furnaces with simple components, including soda cans and computer fans, and installing them in the homes of low-income families in Denver. The devices work by drawing on heat stored in sun-warmed aluminum cans, and run on just two cents of electricity per day. When Brown first started the project at the University of Colorado in Boulder, students came up with a design that cost $60 to build. He challenged his next group of students at Metro in Denver to further reduce the cost, and they succeeded, designing units that could be built for $30 a piece. The furnaces are capable of saving families $30 a month on their heating bills. The students get something out of it too. “There was a little boy who was going to be sleeping there. He was going, ‘I’m going to be so warm tonight,'” Richard Anderson, a Metro State senior, told the Denver Post. “That was just so cool — it’s really exceeded my expectations.”

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