Scientists in Germany flipped the switch in March on what’s being described as “the world’s largest artificial sun.”
The scientists involved hope the device will shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuels.
The honeycomb-like setup of 149 spotlights — officially known as “Synlight” — uses the xenon short-arc lamps used in movie theater projectors to simulate natural sunlight.
By focusing the entire array on an 8-inch square, scientists from the German Aerospace Center can produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation that would normally shine on the same surface.
Creating such furnace-like conditions — with temperatures of up to 5,432 degrees — is key to testing novel ways of making hydrogen, according to Bernhard Hoffschmidt, the director of center’s Institute for Solar Research.
Many consider hydrogen to be the fuel of the future because it produces no carbon emissions when burned, meaning it doesn’t add to global warming. But while hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth.
Hoffschmidt conceded that hydrogen isn’t without its problems — for one thing it’s incredibly volatile — but by combining it with carbon monoxide produced from renewable sources, scientists could make eco-friendly kerosene for the aviation industry.
Lisa Neff is senior news editor for the Wisconsin Gazette.