A DIY Solar Balloon Using Garbage Bags

This is undeniably cool, but just to be clear: I’m not going up in Tomás Saraceno’s solar-powered air balloon made of garbage bag material. Yours either, if you build one.

And you can build one, apparently – Saraceno has posted an illustrated, 59-step how-to manual on the Web [PDF]. Two people can get the job done in 24 hours, he says.

solar balloon

image via Tomás Saraceno

The idea of using the sun to fuel a hot-air balloon isn’t new; a little Internet noodling turned up the apparent fact (hey, it’s the Internet) that Dominic Michaelis designed and built a balloon that took advantage of the greenhouse effect to heat air and provide buoyancy. His balloon even crossed the English Channel in 1981 “with no gas being burnt.” Others have worked with the idea, too.

What Saraceno is offering, as uncovered by the design site DVICE, is a DIY version, with step-by-step instructions for a solar-powered hot-air balloon, giving you the opportunity to kill yourself  soar gloriously heavenward.

image via Tomás Saraceno

image via Tomás Saraceno

You’ll need some gear, notably more than 1,000 feet of polyethylene tubing (it’s the plastic commonly used to make garbage bags), a couple of bicycle wheel rims, a car radiator ventilator, a 12-volt battery; … and other stuff.

Check it out – it’s ingenious and quite beautiful – but be careful!

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.