PHOTO: Photo engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of xenon short-arc lamps in the DLR German national aeronautics and space research centre in Juelich, western Germany. (DPA via AP: Caroline Seidel)
Scientists in Germany have flipped the switch on what is being described as "the world's largest artificial sun," a device they hope will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuels.
- The honeycomb-like setup uses xenon short-arc lamps, normally found in cinemas
- The lamps create temperatures up to 3,000C
- Uses as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household uses in one year
The giant honeycomb-like setup of 149 spotlights — officially known as "Synlight" — in Juelich, about 30 kilometres west of Cologne, uses xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to simulate natural sunlight that's often in short supply in Germany at this time of year.
By focusing the entire array on a single 20-by-20 centimetre spot, scientists from the German Aerospace Centre, or DLR, will be able to 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 3,000 degrees Celsius — is key to testing novel ways of making hydrogen, according to Bernhard Hoffschmidt, the director of DLR'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 does not add to global warming.
But while hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth.
One way to manufacture it is to split water into its two components — the other being oxygen — using electricity in a process called electrolysis.
But the Synlight researchers hope to bypass the electricity stage and instead use the immense heat generated by the experiment to set off a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
Industrial capacity could be a decade away
Mr Hoffschmidt said the dazzling display was 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.
Experts say this could take about a decade, if there is sufficient industry support.
The goal is to eventually use actual sunlight rather than the artificial light produced at the Juelich experiment, which cost nearly $5 million to build and requires as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would use in a year.
Mr Hoffschmidt conceded that hydrogen was not without its problems. For one thing, it is incredibly volatile. But by combining it with carbon monoxide produced from renewable sources, scientists would, for example, be able to make eco-friendly kerosene for the aviation industry.
Source - http://www.abc.net.au/news