DIY Soda Can Solar Thermal Panels

By Hannah Glenn
29 June 2018
Do it yourself soda can solar thermal panels

Are you inclined to tinker on backyard projects? Is it something you're curious about? Here's a fun DIY solar project (featuring soda cans) that might be right up your alley.

Having a PV solar system installed is the easiest and most efficient way to get solar electricity. But if you like the feeling of building something from scratch, you might enjoy this hands-on approach to generating heat with a homemade solar thermal panel.

People heat their small home office or workshop with these DIY soda can panels. Using aluminum soda and beer cans, you can actively recycle and create a panel capable of heating air. Here’s how it’s done.

Assembly of DIY Home Solar Thermal Panels

The top of each can is cut off with a can opener or a hole saw. Then a star is cut into the opposite end of each cleaned, dried can. This creates choppy airflow through the cans, which collects more heat within the warm wall of pop cans.

Create that wall by gluing the cans together, stacked one on top of the other. You’ll need a silicone adhesive that’s resistant to temperatures at least up to 200°C/400°F.

Paint and Install Your Hot Wall of Solar Cans

Next, make a wood or metal frame to hold your makeshift solar panel cells (soda cans) in place. The back side of your DIY panel can be wood or metal. Spray paint the frame, back panel and cans black. This is to help them absorb and conduct heat better.

You’ll need a large sheet of glass for the front. Seal the glass cover onto the frame and connect it to an air intake and an exhaust tube, filling any gaps around the edges with adhesive tape or heat-resistant silicone.

The exhaust fan will extract the cold air from the room, which is pumped into the solar panel where it’s heated up in the small, black greenhouse. The warm air is pumped back into the room through the second pump.

Attach hooks or a hinge onto the back of your solar panel. This way it can more easily attach to a south-facing wall or rooftop and you can adjust for maximum sunshine.

Pros and Cons of Home Solar Thermal Pop Bottle Panels

PROS:

  • You can generate clean thermal energy with leftover soda cans!
  • If you like the feeling of building something with your own two hands, this is a good outlet for your love to tinker.
  • You can heat a small space for the cost of a few hardware store supplies (plus cans you would toss in the recycling bin anyway.)
  • It’s a fun project with a practical use application.

CONS:

  • They only generate a small amount of heat, not electricity
  • There’s no easy way to connect them to a battery or store the heat energy
  • You have to use the heat energy you generate right away
  • It is a time investment and you must be careful not to cut yourself with the tools and sharp metal of the cut cans
  • Most likely, it will not look pretty

In general, PV solar is the simplest and most cost-effective way to harvest solar power. Read about the differences between solar thermal and PV (photovoltaic) solar here. But this project is different in that it’s a relatively simple DIY project you can do for fun and to heat a small space.

Read this post for more step-by-step instructions.

Let us know if you decide to try it and how it goes in the comments below!

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