Engineers at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico recently gathered on top of a 200-foot solar testing facility to roast green chiles.
“Chile peppers are a big part of New Mexican culture, especially with the Latino Hispanic communities,” says Sandia engineer Kenneth Armijo.
Armijo is the son of chile farmers. The taste and smell of the roasted peppers is close to his heart.
But roasting chiles usually involves burning propane, a fossil fuel.
“My thought was, hey, can we find out a way to roast these chile peppers in a more sustainable way?” Armijo says.
So his team set out to roast peppers with concentrated solar power. The technology uses mirrors and lenses to concentrate the sun’s rays — in this case, onto the roasting drum.
Their experiment worked. And Armijo says that during a blind taste test, people preferred the solar-roasted peppers to conventionally roasted ones.
Now he’s planning to test a modular system that could harness the sun’s energy to roast chiles – or coffee beans or nuts – on a small scale.
He says the project shows how renewable energy can complement cultural traditions.
“We can progress forward into the future in a productive way that also propels our culture,” Armijo says.
Reporting credit: Sarah Kennedy/ChavoBart Digital Media and Molly Matthews Multedo