Bringing the Sun down to Earth

Generating artificial sunlight with the power of 11,000 hotplates

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has created the largest artificial sun – called "Synlight" – with the aid of roughly 150 cinema lamps. One of its uses is to obtain hydrogen as a fuel for powering aircraft. A total of 149 xenon short-arc lamps are shining in the Jülich lab. Each one of them is sufficient to light up a large cinema screen.

"We've brought the Sun down to Earth," says Bernhard Hoffschmidt, head of the Institute of Solar Research, describing the miniature solar power plant. Using the system the scientists can achieve lamp radiation levels of up to 350 kW. If all the light sources are focused onto a single point this creates a beam intensity which is up to 10,000 times that of the Sun's radiation upon reaching the Earth. A temperature of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius is achieved, allowing water to be split into its constituent parts, thereby producing hydrogen. This is regarded as a fuel of the future because it burns without emitting carbon dioxide.

North Rhine-Westphalian Environment Minister Johannes Remmel stressed the importance of research for the energy transition at the official launch of Synlight: "The existing technology needs to be developed in practical ways if we are to achieve the expansion targets for renewable energy. Yet the energy transition will not get very far unless we invest in innovative research, cutting-edge technologies and global lighthouse projects such as Synlight." The state of North Rhine-Westphalia and the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) provided EUR 2.4 million for the "sun".

The main aim of the research is the solar production of fuel, however the new facility can also be used for a variety of other applications. Aging processes in materials, for example, can be reproduced and accelerated because the spectrum of the UV radiation is similar to that of the Sun.

Hoffschmidt describes how Synlight works in a video on the DLR website.