On Thursday, March 23, 2017, scientists in Germany flipped the switch on a giant honeycomb-like setup of 149 industrial-grade spotlights officially known as "Synlight" --- or what's being described as the world's largest artificial sun.
This experiment in pursuit of efficient and renewable energy is taking place in Jülich, a town located 30 kilometers west of Cologne, and it was designed by scientists from the German Aerospace Center ("DLR"). Each one of the industrial-grade film projector spotlights used boasts roughly 4,000 times the wattage of the average light bulb.
The giant apparatus can focus all of its simulated solar energy to a surface of 20 by 20 centimeters. By doing so, the surface would receive the equivalent of 10,000 times the normal solar radiation. The scientists involved say that the device can induce very high temperatures that may help them find new ways to obtain hydrogen, which many consider to be the fuel of the future because it does not produce carbon emissions when burned for fuel.
"We're essentially bringing the sun to the Earth, by re-creating its radiation in a lab. We orientate all lamps to focus on one point, which can generate temperatures of over 3,000 degrees Celsius. The operation produces water vapor that can be split into hydrogen and oxygen. The hydrogen created can then be used to power airplanes and cars (with) carbon-dioxide-free fuel." - Bernhard Hoffschmidt, Director of the DLR's Institute for Solar Research.
Proponents of hydrogen as a future fuel are keenly interested in taking water and splitting the H from the O, which is most simply done via a sizeable electric current. So far, this process has consumed lots of energy, which kind of defeats the purpose of fuel production.
With Synlight, DLR researchers are hope to shine light on a new method. Rather than an electric current, Synlight harnesses the power of the (artificial) sun. Hoffschmidt said the dazzling display is designed to take experiments done in smaller labs to the next level, adding that once researchers have mastered hydrogen-making techniques with Synlight's 350-kilowatt array, the process could be scaled up ten-fold on the way to reaching a level fit for industry. Nevertheless, experts say this could take about a decade, if there is sufficient industry support.
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