Solar Power Without Semiconductor Solar Cells? New Physics Discovery Says Maybe, Someday

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photo: Apollo1981/Creative Commons

This may not solve our immediate need for more renewable energy, but it certainly is a fascinating to contemplate what this discovery may bring. Researchers from the University of Michigan have discovered a magnetic effect of light that could one day lead to solar power without semiconductor-based solar cells. Again, this is a long way off from implementation in a product, but it goes something like this: What the scientists discovered is that when light travels through a material than doesn't conduct electricity, if the conditions are right a magnetic effect 100 million times stronger than expected is created. The resultant magnetic effect is equivalent to a strong electric effect.

When are those conditions right? The material can't conduct electricity and the light has to be focused to an intensity of 10 million watts per square centimeter--which is actually more intense than can be achieved by sunlight alone.

Professor Stephen Rand quoted in Physorg on the future implications of the discovery:

This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation. In solar cells, the light goes into a material, gets absorbed and creates heat. Here, we expect to have a very low heat load. Instead of the light being absorbed, energy is stored in the magnetic moment. Intense magnetization can be induced by intense light and then it is ultimately capable of providing a capacitive power source.

Read more: Physorg

The original research was published in the Journal of Applied Physics
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