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Melting steel with sunlight, James Mays big ideas

The best way to feed the world's hunger for energy, James May visited a solar furnace to see how powerful they really are. Usually, solar furnaces are used to boil water into steam to generate electricity or make hydrogen fuel. But May thought that the best way to make people understand their insane power is to do something equally as insane: Melt steel almost instantly.

A solar furnace is a mirror structure used to concentrate sun rays into a small area called the focal point. As you can expect, the concentrated rays produce extremely high temperatures: At the focal point, solar furnaces can achieve temperatures of 5,430 ºF (3,000 ºC). The idea is not new—coming from ancient Greece—but their potential is starting to become more relevant now as we try to cut dependency on fossil fuels.

While this furnace is not as big as the largest solar furnace in the world at Odeillo, in the French Pyrenees, it's capable of achieving 4,352 ºF (2,400 ºC)—which, as you can see, it's enough to melt steel in a few seconds and almost disintegrate hot dogs.


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