Scientists from the German Aerospace Center have built a new “artificial sun” that they hope will one day be used to create environmentally friendly fuels.
The powerful light system — known as Synlight — is able to focus the energy equivalent of 10,000 suns onto a single spot. It is located in Juelich, Germany — roughly nine miles west of Cologne — and is built from 149 xenon short-arc lamps. The lights can reach 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit and the whole structure measures 45 feet high and 52 feet wide.
During the launch, researchers focused the 350-kilowatt honeycomb-shaped array onto a single piece of 8 by 8-inch sheet metal. While it may seem odd to generate so much heat onto such a small space, the team hopes to use the energy from the machine to bring new elements into existence. They are especially focused on creating hydrogen because, unlike other fuels, it produces no carbon emissions when burned.
However, hydrogen fuel does not naturally occur on Earth. Instead, the element is born when stellar-like conditions split water into its base components, Gizmodo reports. The new machine mimics that process by heating metal to 1,475 degrees Fahrenheit. The metal is then sprayed with water vapor, which causes the sheet to react with oxygen and leave only the hydrogen behind.
While this is effective, hydrogen fuel is very volatile. In its liquid state, it can combust at just one-tenth of the energy needed to light gasoline. For that reason, researchers have come up with multiple ways to safely store and use the liquid. This could allow the substance to power cars, planes, and even rockets.
Currently, the biggest problem with Synlight is the amount of electricity it needs to run. In just four hours it uses the same energy the average household consumes in an entire year. The team hopes to cut down that electric bill and create a solar-powered version sometime in the future.
While the machine is still in the testing phase, once proof-of-concepts are achieved the system could be increased up to ten times its current size in order to prepare for industrial-scale tasks.
“We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive airplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel,” said Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center, according to The Guardian. “Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”
World’s largest ‘artificial sun’ turned on in Germany – Science Recorder