Researchers from Zurich have developed a new type of thermal trap that absorbs solar radiation and can reach temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Celsius. In the future, the so-called sunlight trap could replace fossil fuels in various industrial processes.

The production of cement, steel and many chemicals requires extremely high temperatures, which are currently mostly generated by burning fossil fuels such as coal or natural gas. The disadvantage: these processes release large amounts of greenhouse gases that have a negative impact on the climate. Renewable electricity is also not an alternative because the temperatures required are so high.

However, researchers at ETH Zurich have now developed a technology to overcome this challenge: a sunlight trap. This thermal trap should be able to reach temperatures of over 1,000 degrees Celsius using sunlight.

How the sunlight trap works

The heart of the sunlight trap is a rod made of quartz. Due to its optical properties, it absorbs solar radiation and converts it into heat. In the laboratory experiment, the quartz cylinder had a diameter of 7.5 centimeters and was 30 centimeters long.

It reached temperatures of up to 1,050 degrees Celsius by irradiating it with artificial light. This corresponds to the intensity of 135 times concentrated sunlight. For comparison: In previous studies, maximum temperatures of 170 degrees Celsius could be achieved using similar technologies.

The research team was also able to reduce the heat radiation from the sunlight trap to a minimum. While concentrating solar power plants in Spain, the USA and China operate at temperatures of up to 600 degrees to reduce the heat loss of the systems, the Zurich invention does not rely on this.

Potential for high-temperature solar systems

“Our approach significantly improves the efficiency of sunlight absorption,” says Emiliano Casati, scientist in the Energy and Process Systems Engineering group. “We are therefore confident that this technology will enable the development of high-temperature solar systems.” However, detailed analyses are still pending.

“To combat climate change, we need to decarbonize energy in general,” stresses Casati. “When we think of energy, we often only think of electricity, but in fact we use about half of our energy in the form of heat.”

The researchers at ETH Zurich are continuing to work on optimizing their method. In the long term, the sunlight trap could be used not only for electricity production, but also for the decarbonization of energy-intensive industries and thus play a significant role in energy supply.

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