The giant honeycomb-like setup of 149 spotlights uses xenon short-arc lamps (normally found in cinemas) and produces light 10,000 times the intensity of natural Sunlight on Earth by focusing the entire array on a single 20-by-20 centimetre spot. The instrument can generate temperatures of 3,500C – around 2 to 3 times the temperature of a blast furnace – which is essential in testing novel ways of making hydrogen. The experiment is housed in a protective radiation chamber – if a person was to walk into it they would burn up instantly.
Many consider hydrogen to be the fuel of the future because it produces no carbon emissions when burned, meaning it does not add to global warming. But while hydrogen is the most common element in the universe, it is rare on Earth. One way to manufacture it is to split water into its two components — the other being oxygen — using electricity in a process called electrolysis. Hydrogen is not without its problems though - for one thing, it is incredibly volatile - but by combining it with carbon monoxide produced from renewable sources, scientists say they can make eco-friendly kerosene for the aviation industry and fuel for motor vehicles.
The goal is to eventually use natural Sunlight to produce hydrogen in a carbon-neutral way rather than the artificial light produced in the German experiment, which cost nearly $5 million to build and requires as much electricity in four hours as an average household would use in a year. But climate change is speeding up, requiring us to speed up innovation.
Credit for image featured at top of page: DPA via AP: Caroline Seidel
Photo: Photo engineer Volkmar Dohmen stands in front of xenon short-arc lamps in the DLR German national aeronautics and space research centre in Juelich, western Germany.