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German scientists build artificial sun to research eco-friendly fuel

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In a small town outside of Cologne in Germany, scientists have been working on a giant honeycomb of 149 spotlights that looks like it belongs in some sort of sci-fi movie more so than a science lab. Named “Synlight”, the light array is the world’s largest artificial sun, and was created by German scientists in an effort to learn more about new ways of making environmentally-friendly fuels.

The entire array is pointed towards a single 20-by-20 centimeter (8-by-8 inch) spot, which scientists expect will produce 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation it would usually be exposed to under normal conditions. What the scientists are hoping to replicate is the Sun’s ability to produce hydrogen, only on a much smaller scale. The setup they’ve put together ensures that they will be able to create a hydrogen energy source, and will help them understand the intricacies behind what many are touting as the next big energy innovation.

honeycomb spotlight pattern
honeycomb spotlight pattern

Hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when it is consumed, but it is one of the hardest energy sources to harvest, as it doesn’t occur naturally. Prior to this research, scientists who wanted to produce hydrogen did so by splitting water into its two components – hydrogen and oxygen – a process that requires large amounts of electricity.

That isn’t to say that this latest experiment consumes less, it is understood that Synlight requires as much electricity in four hours as a four-person household would use in a year. However, researchers believe the potential behind hydrogen-powered energy generation is worth the high energy costs to keep their artificial sun running – at least for the time being.

The current plan of action for this experiment explains that scientists hope that their miniature sun will help them hone their hydrogen-making techniques to the point that they will be able to use our own sun instead. There is no timetable as to when that will happen, that is, if they are able to make it happen.

Although hydrogen’s volatility could lead to some problems, many are already thinking of the potential applications of it as a fuel. Scientists and engineers believe that by combining hydrogen with sustainably-sourced carbon monoxide could make an eco-friendly kerosene for the aviation industry that could replace today’s more polluting option.

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