For a new way to produce clean and renewable energy, scientists in Germany have switched on the world's largest artificial sun. Researchers said the Synlight can outshine the sun by a factor of 10,000 in terms of light that fall on a small portion of the Earth's surface.
Using renewable energy can help reduce mankind's dependence on oil, coal, and natural gas, supplies of which can eventually dwindle. It can also help reduce carbon emission, which is heavily blamed for the current global warming.
In the quest for renewable energy, scientists have turned to the simplest element in the periodic table. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe and serves as the main fuel source of the sun.
Unfortunately, hydrogen is rarely found on Earth alone since it rapidly escapes the Earth's gravity and hydrogen once it enters the atmosphere. Hydrogen occurs primarily in combination with oxygen and water. It is also present in organic matter such as petroleum, coal, and living plants.
Hydrogen As Fuel
Scientists have long been interested in hydrogen for its potential as a pollution-free fuel that does not produce emissions.
"Hydrogen is an energy carrier with no carbon in it, so when you burn it, you only produce water," said Richard Chahine of the Hydrogen Research Institute at the University of Québec.
Now, the artificial sun called Synlight built by the German Aerospace Center could offer a new way of extracting hydrogen, providing a renewable and climate-friendly source of energy.
Hydrogen combines with other elements to form different compounds, the most common of which is water (H20). Those interested on clean-burning fuel want to take water and split the hydrogen from the oxygen. The process can be done using an electric current but this involves a lot of energy, defeating the purpose of fuel production.
New Method Of Extracting Hydrogen
Instead of using an electric current, the Synlight uses the power of the artificial sun to extract fuel. The process involves spraying the surface of a metal (superheated by lamps to 1,475 degrees Fahrenheit) with water vapor. At such high temperature, the metal binds with oxygen, leaving the hydrogen fuel behind. The metal can then be reheated to strip the oxygen and the system can repeat the process again.
The process, however, gobbles up much power. Over four hours, it uses up as much energy as a four-person family would consume in one year. Scientists hope to engineer the experiment in the future so it can use its own solar panels, which would make the yielded hydrogen a truly green fuel. Researchers said that the technology has already shown promise in small lab demonstrations, albeit it is still a long way from its prime time.
"We need to expand existing technology in practical ways in order to achieve renewable energy targets, but the energy transition will falter without investments in innovative research, in state-of-the-art technologies and in global lighthouse projects like Synlight," said German environment minister Johannes Remmel.