The University of Minnesota announced today that they’re the first in the nation to begin using a high-powered solar simulator that has (say it with me in your best Dr. Evil voice) the power of 3,000 suns.

Photo courtesy University of Minnesota

The research is intended to help develop technology to exploit concentrated solar energy. Using seven mirrored lamps, each with a 6,500 watt bulb, the device is capable of generating temperatures up to 3600 degrees Fahrenheit.

You’re probably thinking the exact same thing that I am at this point: How fast can that sucker bake a potato?

Professor Wojciech Lipinski, one of the lead researchers on the project, obliged: “At this temperature, the potato will quickly turn into gaseous form and there will be no potato anymore” (emphasis mine). Also, “steel can quickly melt under a fraction of the power offered by the simulator.”

(Insert diabolical laughter here)

But, of course, the $450,000 machine is far more than an elaborate potato-destroying apparatus. The technologies being researched here have game changing potential, including development of cellulosic biofuels and – get ready – a process to synthesize carbon dioxide and water back into hydrocarbons, with oxygen as the only byproduct. That means carbon-neutral production of fuel, as well as a means of storing variable solar energy.

And, I’ll bet it could make a heck of a grilled cheese…

Ken is the director of the Energy News Network at Fresh Energy and is a founding editor of both Midwest Energy News and Southeast Energy News. Prior to joining Fresh Energy, he was the managing editor for online news at Minnesota Public Radio. He started his journalism career in 2002 as a copy editor for the Duluth News Tribune before spending five years at the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Washington, where he worked as a copy editor, online producer, features editor and night city editor. A Nebraska native, Ken has a bachelor's degree from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and a master's degree from the University of Oregon. He is a member of the Society of Professional Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors.