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Synlight: Germany Turns on World's Largest Artificial Sun to Create Climate-Friendly Fuel

Mar 24, 2017 05:54 AM EDT
Improved plastic solar cells can absorb more energy
A worker installs solar panels containing photovoltaic cells at the new Solarpark Eggersdorf solar park near Muencheberg, Germany. A team of scientists have extended the range of photonic energies plastic solar cells could absorb.
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Scientists in Juelich, Germany switched on the world's largest artificial sun, called Synlight, in hopes of using it to develop climate-friendly fuels.

According to a report from Phys Org, the Synlight system that consists of 149 spotlights all together resembling a gigantic honeycomb. The lights, which are xenon short-arc lamps that's usually found in cinemas, simulate natural sunlight during a season that doesn't get much at all.

The scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) plan to train all of the lights on a 20 x 20 centimeter spot to generate 10,000 times of solar radiation that natural sunlight would typically shine on a similarly sized area. Such power could reach up to 3,000 degrees Celsius (5,432 degrees Fahrenheit).

"If you went in the room when it was switched on, you'd burn directly," DLR Institute for Solar Research director Bernhard Hoffschmidt told The Guardian.

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These conditions is important in testing new ways of making hydrogen. Hydrogen fuel, often dubbed the "fuel of the future," is important because it doesn't produce carbon dioxide and doesn't contribute to global warming.

The obstacle to making hydrogen the primary fuel on Earth is its scarcity in the planet. It could be produced by splitting water using electricity, but researchers, such as the ones in DLR, are seeking a way to skip the need for electricity by using power from sunlight instead -- thus, Synlight was born.

"We'd need billions of tonnes of hydrogen if we wanted to drive aeroplanes and cars on CO2-free fuel," Hoffschmidt explained. "Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation."

The Synlight experiment is still very expensive and energy-consuming, costing 3.5 million euros and needing as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household takes up in a year. Eventually, the scientists want to be able to use actual sunlight instead of artificial light like the Synlight.

Read Also: Scientists Create Graphene Panels That Generate Energy From Rainfall

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