Solar electricity has traditionally meant solar cells and solar panels, but researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a new way to generate power from the sun without using traditional methods.
In finding a new way to capture the sun’s energy, Professor Stephen Rand and doctoral student William Fisher disproved age-old theories about how light behaves. They found a way to create an “optical Battery” capable of using the sun’s magnetic powers to generate power, according to a press release from the university.
“We simply chose to ignore one of the standard assumptions in optics, that the magnetic field of light is too weak to have a notable effect in almost every situation, and see what could happen,” Fisher wrote in an e-mail.
Fisher said that he and Rand did not set out to find a new way of generating solar power, it was the happy byproduct of their research on optical magnetism, he wrote.
Fisher and Rand discovered that when light is traveling through a material that does not conduct electricity, the light field can generate magnetic effects 100 million times greater than scientists previously believed, according to the press release.
“This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation,” Rand was quoted in the release.
In order for the rectification process to work, a light must be shone through a material that doesn’t conduct electricity like glass or porcelain and be focused to an intensity of 10 million watts per square centimeter, according to the release.
“The intensity discussed in the press release is beyond what can be achieved with sunlight,” Fisher wrote in his e-mail, “so we would like to find materials in which this threshold is much lower. Preliminary results from other experiments have shown that this may be possible, but many engineering problems remain.”
Looking for new materials and trying to increase the energy output will be on top of the researchers’ lists as the project moves forward. And one day, this new science could be transformed into a new solar power generation system that uses fewer minerals, a simpler construction process and less expensive every-day materials.
“At the moment this does not appear to be a more efficient way to generate solar power,” Fisher wrote, “but the use of simple dielectric materials could reduce the cost compared to current techniques.”
Image courtesy of NextBigFuture.com