Scientists in Germany have flipped the switch on what is being described as "the world's largest artificial sun," a device they hope will help shed light on new ways of making climate-friendly fuels.

The giant honeycomb-like setup of 149 spotlights — officially known as "Synlight" — in Juelich, about 30 kilometres west of Cologne, uses xenon short-arc lamps normally found in cinemas to simulate natural sunlight that's often in short supply in Germany at this time of year.

By focusing the entire array on a single 20-by-20 centimetre spot, scientists from the German Aerospace Centre, or DLR, will be able to produce the equivalent of 10,000 times the amount of solar radiation that would normally shine on the same surface.

Creating such furnace-like conditions — with temperatures of up to 3,000 degrees Celsius — is key to testing novel ways of making hydrogen, according to Bernhard Hoffschmidt, the director of DLR's Institute for Solar Research.

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.

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.

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