Valparaiso University’s Solar Powered Furnace

Students at Valparaiso University’s James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility have constructed a solar powered furnace capable of reaching temperatures of over 1,650 degrees Celsius.
    
A 6m x 6m sun-tracking heliostat is situated outside of the furnace building and directs the light toward the concentrator; which is composed of 306 curved mirrors. Between the heliostat and the concentrator are a set of louvres that regulate the amount of light available to the concentrator.
  
The concentrator and a magnifying glass focus the light on a solar thermal reactor. The temperatures attained inside the reactor allow for a wide range of chemical reactions and associated research; including converting water into hydrogen fuel and splitting compounds such as zinc oxide without any resulting waste.
  
According to a report on The Atlantic, one of the team’s major goals is to produce magnesium with 90 percent less fossil fuel energy and 93 percent less carbon emissions. Magnesium can play an important role in making vehicles lighter – it’s around 35 percent lighter than aluminium; however traditional processes are energy and carbon intensive. 
  
The team have been awarded a $2.3 million Department of Energy grant to develop their “green magnesium” process.
  
The construction of the oven system and associated building was a lengthy project. Two teams of dozens of students commenced work on the facility in 2000. 
   
According to the University, only four research facilities in the U.S. have a solar furnace and Valpo is the only undergraduate institute in the USA possessing one.
   
The generosity of James S. Markiewicz, who graduated from Valparaiso University in 1972, along with funding from the United States Department of Energy made the construction of the Solar Energy Research Facility possible.
  
The James S. Markiewicz Solar Energy Research Facility is now fully operational.