Extreme HVAC: New Furnace Half as Hot as the Sun

Extreme HVAC: New Furnace Half as Hot as the Sun

How hot can it get? Apparently that was the question asked by a team of researchers at Aberystwyth University, who recently designed a furnace that can reach temperatures half as hot as the sun. This kind of “extreme heating” isn’t exactly common but speaks to the evolving nature of HVAC: Hot is no longer “hot enough”—but what happens when temperatures get this crazy?

Not Your Average Boiler

According to a recent Wales Online article, the Aberystwyth team developed their ultra-hot furnace for Wuhan University of Technology in China, one of the country’s most respected tech institutes. After winning the design contract in 2014 the Department of Physics went to work, looking for a way to melt some of the world’s most heat-resistant materials.

The result? According to team leader Dr. Dave Langstaff, a furnace designed to “levitate specimens in a stream of argon gas and heat them with powerful lasers.” Because the material is not in contact with any solid surface, it’s possible to reach extremely high temperatures. How high? Try 30000 degrees Celsius, which is hot enough to melt Alumina, a super-strong substance used in the construction of glass furnaces and to make steel. In fact, the furnace gets so hot it can actually boil Alumina, making it the perfect addition to Wuhan’s “Materials Under Extreme Conditions” lab.

Not Your Average Risk

While the super-powered laser furnace is quite the scientific achievement, it begs the question: What happens if something goes wrong? Furnace explosions at steel plants and metal factories are not uncommon and while in some cases no one is injured, other furnace failures have dire consequences. And as heat ramps up, so does risk: A 2000 degree furnace explosion is one thing, but at fifteen times that mark even a small problem could mean a big disaster.

Ultimately, the Aberystwyth furnace underscores what industrial plant operators the world over already know—while new technology offers easier ways to heat, melt, and boil materials, the real test of HVAC equipment comes from standing the test of time. It’s the mundane, ordinary tasks such as regular boiler cleanings, descalings, and inspections that help catch small problems before they’re big issues.

While it’s unlikely that scientists will ever be able to fully control the sun’s heat or regulate its impact, they’ve taken large steps toward replicating the star’s heat output. 30000 degrees is a staggering feat and notable accomplishment but only shores up the need for companies to take excellent care of any super-heating technology they own or regularly use—better safe than sunburned.

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