Put on Your Sunglasses—the World's Largest Artificial Sun is Up and Running

Fagjun | Published 2017-03-24 09:03

The world's largest artificial sun isn't just record-breaking, it's good for the environment, too.

Because climate change and global warming are partly caused by carbon emissions, the world has been scrambling to find a cleaner alternative energy source. Consequently, a lot of renewable energy sources are in use today. This artificial sun, therefore, is a step towards preparing for the future of renewable energy.

Behold, the (artificial) sun.
[Credit: DPA/AP]

The Synlight experiment, an endeavor by German scientists, consists of 149 short arc lamps. The structure can generate light 10,000 times more intense than natural sunlight on Earth. When all the spotlights concentrate their light on one spot, Synlight can generate temperatures as high as 3,500ºC.

Harnessing the Power of an Artificial Sun

These extreme temperatures are useful in the generation of renewable energy. Synlight's creators say that the experiment can help in the production of hydrogen and other solar fuels. Hydrogen can become an important source of renewable energy sometime in the future, and it can power cars and planes. When hydrogen burns as fuel, it doesn't produce carbon emissions. This means that hydrogen can become key to producing clean energy.

The problem, however, is that uncombined hydrogen gas is quite rare in nature. Manufacturing hydrogen is therefore necessary. A common way to manufacture hydrogen is through electrolyzing water. This process, however, requires the use of electricity. Synlight's creators aim to learn how to manufacture hydrogen, but with the use of the energy that the artificial sun can produce instead.

Synlight's researchers drew inspiration from solar power stations that fuel turbines. These turbines, in turn, generate electricity. However, the weather can affect the effectiveness of solar power stations. This artificial sun, meanwhile, can function well regardless of weather conditions. The researchers thus hope that Synlight can manufacture solar fuel more efficiently.

A Step Forward

However, Synlight won't be around forever. Currently, it uses up a lot of electricity—almost as much as the annual electricity consumption of a four-person household. Scientists hope that eventually, they will be able to produce hydrogen fuel using natural sunlight.

Synlight is thus a step towards this ultimate goal. The experiment is meant to help scientists master the manufacture of hydrogen. Once this happens, scientists may be able to produce enough hydrogen fuel for a decade. “We’d need billions of tonnes of hydrogen if we wanted to drive aeroplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel,” says Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the German Aerospace Center.

Fuel produced with solar power can be stored for a long time. The Synlight experiment, therefore, is part of the process of being able to produce clean and renewable energy in the future.

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