Germany Powers Up The World’s Largest “Artificial Sun”
Germany is one of the few countries that has majorly contributed to science and technology be it physics and chemistry to cars and consumer products. While Germany may be a world leader in innovation, boasting leading universities and research institutes alongside major engineering, IT and manufacturing industries, it isn’t exactly known for its year-round sunshine.
As a result, solar panels line Germany’s residential rooftops and top its low-slung barns. Also, more than twenty-two percent of Germany’s power is generated with renewables, of which close to quarter of that is provided by solar.
Now, German scientists are testing what they term as “the world’s largest artificial sun,” which they hope can make way for producing hydrogen to use as a green fuel in the future.
“Synlight” – a three storey electrically powered sun-lamp – constructed by the German Space Center (DLR) is being tested in Julich, a town located 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Cologne. The Synlight experiment uses 149 xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to recreate the light from the Sun onto a single point, vaporizing water and producing hydrogen and oxygen. Each lamp claims producing roughly 4,000 times the wattage of the average light bulb. When this artificial sun is switched on, it produces an equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation as intense as natural sunlight on Earth.
When all the lamps are swiveled to concentrate light on a single spot, the instrument can generate temperatures of around 3,500 degrees Celsius, which is around two to three times the temperature of a blast furnace.
“If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly,” said Prof Bernard Hoffschmidt, a research director at the DLR.
According to DLR, these extremely high temperatures are necessary to carry out research on processes that use the Sun to produce solar fuels like hydrogen. Although hydrogen is considered by many as the green fuel of the future, as it produces no carbon emissions, producing it requires huge amounts of energy, which generally comes from burning fossil fuels.
Synlight itself consumes a large amount of energy. However, Hoffschmidt said that “In four hours the system uses about as much electricity as a four-person household in a year. Our goal is to eventually use actual sunlight to make hydrogen, rather than artificial light.”
While the DLR researchers have already accomplished splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen using the Sun in the laboratory, however, it has a long way to go to be scaled up for commercial use.
“I think commercial use will only really be possible when societies and governments realize that we cannot burn any more fossil fuels,” Hoffschmidt said.