Microscopy & Microtechniques

What is the Point of an Artificial Sun?

Apr 19 2017 Comments 0

Scientists in Germany are lighting up the renewable energy sector, by unveiling what is fast becoming known as the ‘world’s very first artificial sun’. In an attempt to create climate-friendly fuel for the future, a team of experts have constructed an enormous light structure and named this new solar giant ‘project synlight’.

What is Synlight?

Synlight is the brainchild of scientists from the German Aerospace Centre in Jülich. The artificial sun, currently housed in the three-storey "Synlight" building, consists of 149 Xenon short-arc lamps, which – when combined – form a kind of super-size sun. To give a real impression of how large scale this creation is, a cinema screen is generally illuminated with just a single Xenon short-arc lamp.

Why do we need an artificial sun?

The aim of the experiment is to establish an optimum system for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel. The scientists can focus the 149 spotlights onto an area of ​​20 x 20 centimetres, resulting in temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius. Essentially, this process will enable researchers to produce 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation that would typically shine on an equivalent sized surface.

Highlighting the importance of research for the future of energy transition, Johannes Remmel, the North Rhine-Westphalia Minister for Climate Protection, Environment, Agriculture, Nature Conservation and Consumer Protection, said "We need to expand existing technology in practical ways in order to achieve renewable energy targets, but the energy transition will falter without investments in innovative research, in state-of-the-art technologies and in global lighthouse projects like Synlight."

A stable testing environment

With sunlight in Europe being so variable and unpredictable, the artificial Sun is considered the favoured choice for developing production processes for solar fuels. According to the team, periods of fluctuating sunlight hours in Germany alone have proven in the past to be a difficult factor in testing components. This in turn has had a negative impact on tests.

The constant intensity of Synlight appears to address this issue, providing a more stable, reliable set-up for testing to take place. “Synlight fills a gap in the qualification of solar-thermal components and processes," explains Kai Wieghardt, who played a key role in the development and construction of the facility.

The future looks bright!

The implied future goal of this new technology will be to replicate the process of Synlight using actual sunlight, developing an up-scaled operation to produce usable amounts of hydrogen. But what if we could create light brighter than the sun? ‘JEOL TEM at Diamond’s Electron Physical Sciences Imaging Centre (ePSIC)’ looks at how Diamond’s synchrotron facility accelerates electrons to near light-speed, creating light 10 billion times the brightness of the sun. This concentrated light can them be used for research in medicine, engineering innovation and cutting-edge technology.

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Lab Asia Volume 24 Issue 4

August 2017

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