World’s Largest Artificial Sun Could Help Improve Hydrogen Fuel Production

The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, or DLR) has amassed nearly 150 large, intensely bright film projector spotlights, arranged in what DLR is calling Synlight, the world’s largest artificial sun. The spotlight array is located in the German town of Jülich, located about 20 miles west of Cologne, at the Synlight research center. DLR will utilize the artificial sun to simulate solar radiation needed developing and testing production process for solar fuels such as hydrogen.

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

The research center is focusing on improving efficiencies in producing hydrogen fuel, which promises to offer a clean alternative to gas fuels used in aviation and transport. Hydrogen fuel is particularly attractive as a clean fuel source because it doesn’t produce carbon dioxide as an emission.

But hydrogen fuel production is energy-intensive. While traditional methods rely on electrolysis to break apart the water molecules to access the hydrogen atoms, solar radiation can be used instead — and in fact, DLR scientists made great headway in using solar radiation to do so a few years ago in the laboratory. The company is hoping to further research and production of hydrogen fuel at industrial scale using Synlight.

The artificial sun generates light that’s 10,000 times more intense than the sunlight is on Earth. Each of the 149 Xenon short-arc spotlight lamps delivers approximately 4,000 times the wattage of a normal household light bulb. When the lights are concentrated on a single target area, the heat from the lamps can reach up to 3,000 degrees Celsius. Those temperatures will be used to manufacture hydrogen and other fuels, the company said.

The array is comprised of 149 Xenon short-arc lamps. Image source: DLR

DLR said it built an artificial sun for its research facility because the weather in Central Europe, where DLR is located, makes access to sunlight unpredictable. “Synlight fills a gap in the qualification of solar-thermal components and processes,” said Kai Wieghardt, DLR project manager. The facility is equipped with three radiation chambers, each of which can be used for experiments simultaneously and “optimum utilisation of the facility,” DLR said.

“Renewable energies will be the mainstay of global power supply in the future,” said Karsten Lemmer, executive board member for energy and transportation at DLR. “Fuels, propellants and combustibles acquired using solar power offer immense potential for long-term storage and the production of chemical raw materials, and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions. Synlight will enhance our research in this field.”

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