Scientists hope experiment, which can generate temperatures of around 3,500C, will help to develop carbon-neutral fuel

Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun'
Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on ‘Largest Artificial Sun’
 

Synlight produces 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth. Photograph: Caroline Seidel/AP

German scientists are switching on “the world’s largest artificial sun” in the hope that intense light sources can be used to generate climate-friendly fuel.

The Synlight experiment in Jülich, about 19 miles west of Cologne, consists 149 souped-up film projector spotlights and produces light about 10,000 times the intensity of natural sunlight on Earth.

When all the lamps of artificial sun are swivelled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500C – around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace.

 
Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun'
Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on ‘Largest Artificial Sun’
The ultimate aim of the experiment is devise a setup to concentrate natural sunlight. Photograph: Picture-Alliance/Barcroft Images

“If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly,” said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber.

The aim of the experiment is to come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.

Solar power stations that use mirrors to focus sunlight onto water are already well established. These work by harnessing heat from the sun to produce steam that turns turbines and generates electricity.

Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on 'Largest Artificial Sun'
Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on ‘Largest Artificial Sun’

The energy produced  by artificial sun:

The energy produced would be used to extract hydrogen from water vapour. Photograph: Picture-Alliance/Barcroft Images

The Synlight experiment is investigating the possibility that a similar setup could be used to power a reaction to extract hydrogen from water vapour, which could then be used as a fuel source for aeroplanes and cars

Synlight currently uses a vast amount of energy – four hours of operation consumes as much electricity as a four-person household in a year – but scientists hope that in the future natural sunlight could be used to produce hydrogen in a carbon-neutral way.

“We’d need billions of tonnes of hydrogen if we wanted to drive aeroplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel,” said Hoffschmidt. “Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”

The giant honeycomb-like structure, known as the ‘Synlight’ experiment uses 149 giant spotlights normally found in cinemas to simulate sunlight.

Group – Light – Ways – Fue of artificial sun:

The group hope it will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuel.

They will focus the huge array of xenon short-arc lamps on a single 20-by-20 centimetre (8×8 inch) spot.

Scientists – Aerospace – Centre – DLR – Equivalent of artificial sun:

In doing so, scientists from the German Aerospace Centre, or DLR, will be able to produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation that would normally shine on the same surface.

‘If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly,’ Professor Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR, where the experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber, told the Guardian.

Electricity – Hours – Household – Year of artificial sun:

The experiment uses as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would in a year.

The furnace-like conditions that this energy creates will reach temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 Fahrenheit).

Sunlight – Supply of artificial sun:

Sunlight is normally in short supply…

Let There Be Light: Germans Switch on ‘Largest Artificial Sun’

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