Photos courtesy of Allart Ligtenberg
San Antonio Hills resident Allart Ligtenberg retired from his job as a Hewlett-Packard engineering manager 10 years ago, but he has not been sitting idle. He said he has been just as busy and fulfilled as ever, promoting a cause he passionately believes in: using solar technologies to create better health and a cleaner environment.
Ligtenberg has combined his longtime interest in solar cooking with a concern for the deteriorating environment of developing countries to form FAST - Friendly Appropriate Solar Technologies. He often travels to rural mountain communities in Nepal at his own expense to promote the adoption and local manufacture of solar cookers, food dehydrators and water purification devices. He has promoted the technology in Mongolia, Bolivia and Peru as well. His wife, Ineka, sometimes accompanies him on his travels.
The Ligtenbergs, natives of Holland who have lived in the Los Altos area for 25 years, also use their own solar cookers about every other day to prepare meals.
"I've always been involved in high-tech," Allart Ligtenberg said. "It's nice to use low-tech."
The couple use several types of solar cookers in their backyard - which has a southern exposure - to prepare food from fresh-baked bread to lasagna. The cooking temperatures vary, depending on the particular cooker. Crockpot recipes work well in the cookers, he said.
Solar cookers work well in developing countries because they can be constructed out of a variety of materials, including aluminum foil, cardboard, bamboo and other woods and "even mud with glass placed on top."
Ligtenberg often distributes the CooKit, an inexpensive folding cardboard device coated with aluminum foil, on his trips abroad. It is manufactured by Solar Cookers International, a Sacramento-based company. Another device he finds practical is the Everest, a folding compact version of a parabolic solar cooker. It is lightweight (about nine pounds), can be carried in a backpack and thus is ideal for mountain-trekking.
Ligtenberg said he frequently returns to Nepal to promote solar technology because of his love of the country's mountainous terrain, its multiethnic culture and its people. "I try to immerse myself in their culture," he said. "I stay in people's homes as well." He first traveled to Nepal in 1979, when he was teaching data acquisition and computer technology in India. He makes frequent return trips to follow through with solar technology because "if you don't follow up, things can fall apart."
Ligtenberg said he seeks out community leaders, women's groups and locally based nongovernmental organizations to promote the use of solar devices. One Nepalese grass-roots organization that has been particularly helpful is the Centre for Rural Technology. He also assists residents in setting up mom-and-pop operations to manufacture solar cookers.
Sometimes he is able to persuade larger nongovernmental organizations to promote solar devices, but frequently their managers will say, "First show me a village where these things are in place."
Solar technology promotes better health in several ways, Ligtenberg explained. The lower temperatures of solar cookers help to conserve vitamins and nutrients, and solar dehydrators preserve fruits and vegetables for year-round consumption.
Solar cookers can be used to purify water because water needs to reach only 150 degrees to be potable. "During monsoon season in Nepal, there is usually a big outbreak of hepatitis, particularly among pregnant women," he said. "Up to 25 percent of these women can die. The idea is to promote giving (a solar cooker) as a wedding present (to prevent these outbreaks)." Flood and earthquake victims can use a solar cooker in combination with a small device called the water pasteurization indicator, which has a plastic capsule containing wax that melts at a temperature a few degrees above 150 degrees to indicate the water is safe to drink. Solar water purification could also prove useful in the large settlements of refugees who have come to Nepal from Tibet and Bhutan.
Solar cookers are environmentally sound, Ligtenberg said. They save energy, reduce global warming and prevent deforestation and the resulting landslides. Dung now used for cooking fires can instead be used to fertilize soil. The cookers also reduce indoor pollution and the resulting health risks, Ligtenberg said. "Open fire causes lung and eye diseases and burns. Indoor air pollution is incredible with fire (because Nepalese) homes don't have chimneys."
Ligtenberg said he would like to recruit more volunteers and seek additional donations to promote solar technology. Before each trip to Nepal, in addition to polishing his admittedly rudimentary skills in the Nepalese language, he searches the Internet for nongovernmental organizations that could potentially assist him. "If we could get major donations, we could do a lot more."
For more information, call 948-8294 or log on to www.bali-i.com/fast-solar.