Researchers from Europe have developed a solar simulator that replicates the heat and light of the sun's radiation — and then some. The system, with a luminous flux equivalent to over 20,000 suns, is being used to test various materials in extreme conditions. Image: Alain Herzog/EPFL
Developed in part by researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), the system is comprised of 18 light sources placed in two concentric circles around a virtual half-sphere nearly 2m in diameter. Each lamp consists of a cup-shaped reflector that's illuminated by a Xenon bulb. The ensuing light waves are reflected and focused on a specific point.
Image: Alain Herzog/EPFL
When the system is lit at maximum intensity, the spot where the light beams meet registers at a whopping 21,700 suns, or 21.7 MW m-2. That's roughly the amount of energy received in the desert over the course of a single day.
And it's on this exceptionally hot and bright spot where materials and devices can be tested. The team that invented the system is using it to study and develop new ways of converting and storing solar energy. It can also be used to test solar power equipment, measure heat transfer between various materials and analyse materials under stressful environmental conditions.
The power of this system might seem excessive for the tasks at hand, but scientists and engineers need tools like these to test materials that will be subject to extreme temperature and heat conditions. Concentrated solar power arrays and objects destined for space come to mind. And if the system gets too hot, the researchers can simply dial it down.
This system, which fills an entire room, is located at the Laboratory of Renewable Energy Science and Engineering (LRESE). A twin version is located in Canberra, Australia, and it's being made available as an open-source method to any interested researchers.