Solar panels usually work through absorption. Light creates heat and, in turn, that heat is converted to energy. But physicists have long known that light has a magnetic element that, for years, has been ignored for being too weak to measure.
Students at the University of Michigan, however, have found that light’s magnetism can be captured and used without absorption, creating an intense charge. Unfortunately, you need a massive light source to actually see this effect – over 10 million wats per square centimeter – but you could feasibly push out this much energy using various light control systems.
It works now, but it still needs some help to become a viable technology.
This new technique could make solar power cheaper, the researchers say. They predict that with improved materials they could achieve 10 percent efficiency in converting solar power to useable energy. That’s equivalent to today’s commercial-grade solar cells.
“To manufacture modern solar cells, you have to do extensive semiconductor processing,” Fisher said. “All we would need are lenses to focus the light and a fiber to guide it. Glass works for both. It’s already made in bulk, and it doesn’t require as much processing. Transparent ceramics might be even better.”