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The ‘Commanding General of the Solar Army’ wants to make fuel from sunlight

BY Rebecca Jacobson  April 24, 2014 at 6:23 PM EST

Chemistry professor Harry Gray holds an unusual title at California Institute of Technology: Commanding General of the Solar Army. And he wants you to know how fuel can be made from sunlight.

“It’s artificial photosynthesis, that’s what this is,” Gray explains. “It’s using man made components to do what nature has been doing for billions of years.”

He and his “army” of chemists are looking for metal compounds which can absorb energy from sunlight and use that energy to turn water (H2O) into hydrogen fuel. That hydrogen fuel would be a clean, renewable means of powering your car, your home or your office.

There are metals, like platinum, that can do this already, but they are rare and expensive, Gray said. Gray’s army, which consists of college and high school students around the world, experiments with metals like iron, cobalt and tungsten, which are cheaper and abundant.

Miles O’Brien has more on Gray’s mission in this report from the National Science Foundation’s series Science Nation.*

*For the record, the National Science Foundation is also an underwriter of the PBS NewsHour.