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Scientists may have found an effective chemical reaction to change sunlight into fuel-friendly hydrogen gas

A professor and his students at William & Mary College in Virginia may just revolutionize transportation and alternative energy as we know it. William McNamara, a highly respected chemist, is re-thinking how energy from the sun can be harvested, and instead of returning to the mechanical energy generated within solar panels, he is finding inspiration in the chemical alchemy vital to life and found all around us: photosynthesis.

Photosynthesis works by using sunlight as a direct energy source within a plant’s chloroplast to fuel a complex array of chemical interactions that produce a specific sugar, which is then used as energy for other processes. McNamara wishes to harness this same chemical energy. Of course, sugar-producing photosynthesis works great for plants, but we need to amp up the energy output if we want to power more than a leaf.

McNamara’s man-made photosynthesis involves directing sunlight through water containing a metal and catalyzing a chemical process that splits the water into hydrogen gas and oxygen, essentially producing the eco-friendly energy hydrogen, and potentially purified water if the oxygen is reconverted. Currently, the battle lies in finding the metal that can efficiently and effectively catalyze this reaction while also having longevity, and specific iron ligands seem to be the best candidate.

What does this mean for cars? Car futurists for years have dreamed about using hydrogen as fuel for the transportation industry due to its abundance and low environmental impact. Imagine using only the power of sunlight to start your engine and to get you from A to B, while only producing clean, drinkable water as a direct by-product. The sun has been using hydrogen as fuel for billions of years and maybe it is time we take note.

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