Scientists test artificial sun in effort to make climate-friendly fuel

German scientists flipped the switch on the “world’s largest artificial sun” last week, marking a major milestone in efforts to generate fuel that’s easier on the environment. Known as the “Synlight” experiment, the huge structure resembles a honeycomb and comprises 149 spotlights, making up a giant artificial sun capable of delivering a light intensity of roughly 10,000 times the Earth’s natural solar radiation. Synlight is located in Jülich, roughly  30 km west of Cologne and was developed by scientists at the Institute for Solar Research of the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum fur Luft und Raumfahrt, or DLR).
Those 149 xenon short-arc spotlights are the kind of lamps usually found in cinemas to mimic natural sunlight. The scientists hope to discover new ways of generating climate-friendly fuel. With Synlight, scientists focused all spotlights on a single 8×8-inch spot (20×20 cm), creating a huge furnace with temperatures of up to 5,432 degrees Fahrenheit (3,000 degrees Celsius). “If you went in the room when it was switched on, you’d burn directly,” Professor Bernard Hoffschmidt, a German Aerospace Center research director, tells the Guardian.
This time of year, sunlight is scarce in Germany and the country’s government is among the world’s biggest investors in renewable energy. Such a massive experiment, however, doesn’t come without a cost. In just four hours, Synlight consumes as much electricity as a family of four would consume in a year. Nevertheless, the project is exciting and heralds a new wave of experiments and energy solutions. One area of the research will entail seeking new ways to efficiently produce hydrogen, which would in turn mark a milestone toward making artificial fuel for planes.