ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Sandia National Labs is taking a unique approach to roasting New Mexico’s staple crop, green chile. Researchers at the labs were able to use concentrated sunlight sun to roast the chile, instead of using propane.

“I’m hopeful for seeing how the next generation of chile farmers in New Mexico such as myself can really push our economy in a new way and our culture in a new way as we get into more sustainable farming and practices for our food,” said Dr. Kenneth Armijo, systems engineer at Sandia National Labs.

Researchers at the labs say just in New Mexico burning propane to roast green chile leads to a seasonal emission of about 7,800 metric tons of carbon dioxide. “The principle behind this research was to see if high-temperature food roasting, not just peppers, could be done with solar and produce comparable results as traditional propane roasting. And the answer is yes,” said Sandia Labs engineer Kenneth Armijo.

Armijo was able to use about 40 heliostats, which are mirror-like devices that are used to focus sunlight. Using this method, he was able to get a temperature above 900 degrees Fahrenheit across the chile roasting drum, which is comparable to a propane roaster.

Armijo used this method to roast three batches of 22 pounds of green chile. He then used the propane method to roast three more batches. During this experiment he found it took slightly longer to roast using sunlight. Armijo did a survey and participants preferred the solar-roasted chile over the propane roasted chile. Armijo says this method could be used to roast other foods as well.

The research team has already submitted a patent for the solar design. Armijo hopes these solar roasters will be ready for people to use at farmers markets in the Fall.