Every day, a huge amount of energy hits the Earth in the form of light from our Sun and though we already have ways to harness the Sun’s energy, such as through solar panels still much of it still remains untapped.
- Therefore, to harness the wasted energy, the scientists in Germany has come up with “Synlight” Experiment to tests ways to make carbon-free fuel.
- Aim: To come up with the optimal setup for concentrating natural sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
What is Synlight
Synlight is a system composed of a huge collection of 149 individual film projector spotlights with honeycomb-like setup, assembled at a single place to produce about 10,000 times the intensity of the natural solar radiation on Earth’s surface.
- Each lamp in the device features about 4000 times the Watt of an average light bulb.
About the Synlight Experiment
Scientists at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have designed Synlight which they call as the “world’s largest artificial sun” at Julich, a town located 30 kilometers (19 miles) west of Cologne in Germany to produce hydrogen in a carbon-neutral way so as to use them as fuel in cars and airplanes.
- The experiment is being carried out in a protective radiation chamber, because if it is done in an ordinary room and if anyone went when the synlight is switched on, the person would burn directly.
- When all the lamps are rotated to concentrate light on a single 20-by-20 centimetre spot, the device can generate temperatures of around 3,500 degrees Celsius (6,332 degrees Fahrenheit), which is around two to three times as hot as the temperature of a blast furnace.
- The operation produces water vapor that can be split into hydrogen and oxygen.
- As in the case of Solar power stations that use mirrors to focus sunlight onto water to harness heat from the sun to produce steam that turns turbines and generates electricity.
- Likewise, Synlight researchers are investigating the possibility that a similar setup could be used to power a reaction to extract hydrogen from water vapor, which could then be used as a fuel source for airplanes and cars
About Hydrogen Fuel
Hydrogen fuel is considered to have zero pollutant emissions and no greenhouse gases and therefore is also touted as the fuel of the future since it does not add to global warming.
- But while hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth.
- Hydrogen is produced by electrolysis i.e the process of splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen, and requires large amounts of electricity.
- But the Synlight researchers hope to bypass the electricity stage and instead use the immense heat generated by the experiment to set off a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
Limitation of the Experiment
The Synlight technique currently uses a vast amount of energy. About four hours of operation consumes as much electricity as a four-person household in a year so it is expensive.
- The project has been set up at a cost of about $ 5 million.
- The goal is therefore to eventually use actual sunlight rather than the artificial light to produce efficient and cleaner hydrogen in a carbon-neutral way for the future.
- So the scientists are making effort to determine the optimal setup needed to use sunlight to power a reaction to produce hydrogen fuel.
- Bernhard Hoffschmidt, director of DLR’s Institute for Solar Research says that once researchers have mastered hydrogen-making techniques with Synlight, the process can be scaled up ten-fold on the way to reaching a level fit for industry.
- Mr Hoffschmidt also said that hydrogen, which is volatile, can be combined with carbon monoxide produced from renewable sources to make eco-friendly kerosene for the aviation industry.
- In the future, the facility may also be used to test the durability of space travel parts when blasted by solar radiation.