The World’s Largest ‘Artificial Sun’: How Can Synlight Help Curb Climate Change?

German researchers have come up with something they call the world's largest artificial sun, as part of the Synlight project.

In an effort to deal with the effects of climate change and reduce the world’s reliance on fossil fuel, German scientists have turned on a device they call the “world’s largest artificial sun.” But how exactly can the Synlight project help in reducing the effects of this phenomenon?

According to The Guardian, the Synlight experiment comes up with almost 150 “souped-up” film projector spotlights and is capable of generating light with tremendous intensity – approximately 10,000 times more intense than natural sunlight. If the lamps are concentrated on a singular spot, the world’s largest “artificial sun” can generate heat of about 3,500 degrees Celsius (6,332 degrees Fahrenheit) or about two or three times hotter than the heat generated by a blast furnace.

Business Insider added more information on the Synlight lamps, which are located in Juelich, a city located about 19 miles west of Cologne. The project utilizes xenon short-arc lamps typically used in cinemas, allowing the system to simulate the effects of natural sunlight. According to the German Aerospace Center (DLR) Institute for Solar Research director Bernhard Hoffschmidt, the “furnace-like conditions” created by the largest artificial sun could be important as scientists come up with unusual ways to create hydrogen fuel.

Hydrogen is an element that doesn’t produce any carbon emissions when burned, and that’s what makes it a viable “green” alternative fuel. Cars such as the Toyota Mirai (with Mirai being Japanese for “future”) have been much-hyped as environmentally-safe vehicles, and a report from Oil Price recently suggested that Royal Dutch Shell is considering the use of hydrogen as its “alternative fuel of choice.”

At the moment, however, hydrogen-powered vehicles only take up a tiny percentage of the number of cars on the world’s roads. Oil Price wrote that there were only 1,074 fuel cell vehicles sold in America in 2016 – this is about ten times the number of hydrogen-powered cars sold the year prior, but nonetheless a very small percentage of new vehicle sales in the U.S.

The main challenge companies face is the fact that hydrogen does not appear naturally. According to Business Insider, water has to first be split into its two components – hydrogen and oxygen – with significant amounts of electricity needed to conduct the process. Researchers, however, are trying to eliminate the need for electricity, and that’s where the Synlight project comes in – an alternative means to tap into the energy typically generated by the sun, but often in short supply depending on the country or the time of the year.

If research goes well, Hoffschmidt’s Synlight experiment may work on something similar to the largest artificial sun, one that can successfully isolate hydrogen from water and create environmentally-friendly fuel for cars and airplanes. The researchers are also looking for a more energy-efficient way to achieve its goals, as four hours of operating Synlight would consume as much electricity as an average four-person household would consume in one whole year.

“We’d need billions of tons of hydrogen if we wanted to drive aeroplanes and cars on carbon dioxide-free fuel,” Hoffschmidt told The Guardian. “Climate change is speeding up so we need to speed up innovation.”

Talking about the creation of fuel for airplanes, Hoffschmidt was quoted by Business Insider as saying that hydrogen can be “incredibly” volatile, but can create environmentally-safe kerosene fuel once blended with carbon monoxide from renewable sources.

In the end, the researchers hope that they wouldn’t have to use something as large as their “artificial sun,” or something that costs so much ($3.8 million building costs) and consumes so much energy. In time, actual sunlight may replace the ersatz equivalent provided by Synlight, but more research may be needed before this is achieved.

[Featured Image by Caroline Seidel/AP Images]