Scientists working on the Synlight experiment in Jülich, Cologne, are switching on the world’s largest “artificial sun” in an attempt to study the possibility of intense light sources in making climate friendly fuel.
The experiment involves 149 film projector spotlights. They are modified and arranged to concentrate light on a single spot. Temperatures from the machine reach 3,500°C. 2,000°C shy of the sun but still enough to burn you if you walked into the chamber. The light intensity of the spotlights however will be 10,000 times of that naturally found on earth.
Concentrated solar power (CSP) systems most widely used Spain and in science fiction. The action of current CSP systems is to heat water, produce steam and pressurise it to turn a turbine. Synlight want to find the optimum setup for concentrating sunlight in order to produce hydrogen fuel.
Harnessing an artificial sun for free hydrogen
Hydrogren fuel is a zero-emission fuel type when burned with oxygen, assuming that water is not an emission. Burning hydrogen in atmospheric air releases some nitrogen oxides. However the reaction can be contained within a cell capable of ‘reversing’ the reaction. Hydrogen fuel offers a lot of advantages over fossil fuels. Free hydrogen is hard to come by however, the Synlight experiment is aiming how to find the right way to work with natural sunlight, offering a different path in CSP research and development.
The experiment is uses a lot of power itself. Four hours of operation uses as much energy as a four person household does in one year. Scientists need to conduct this research in order to increase the chances of a break through in fuel production.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is a national center for advanced technological research and development. It works on its own projects as well as answering technical questions from a number of German federal ministries and agencies. A team from the DLR received the Descartes prize for achieving thermal water splitting using solar energy.