Researchers at the University of Michigan have discovered a new property of light that allows them to harness the magnetic attributes of light. Electromagnetism being a classically unified force, the relationship between light and magnetism is well known, but the magnetic component was thought to be weak enough that it could be safely ignored. Stephen Rand, a professor at UMich, said of this, "You could stare at the equations of motion all day and you will not see this possibility. We've all been taught that this doesn't happen. It's a very odd interaction. That's why it's been overlooked for more than 100 years." Scientists are so awesome.
"This could lead to a new kind of solar cell without semiconductors and without absorption to produce charge separation," Rand said. "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."
Right now solar power cells are expensive and somewhat dirty to produce as they are made from semiconducting wafers. This will allow solar collection apparatus to be constructed from much more common materials. This could be the breakthrough that makes solar power cheap enough for widespread adoption.
"To manufacture modern solar cells, you have to do extensive semiconductor processing," Fisher, a PhD student involved in the research, 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."
This could be a major breakthrough, focusing the light into a usable beam and creating voltage potential with cheaper materials is going to be the ticket to ending the world's dependence on fossil fuels once and for all. There isn't going to be a magic bullet that'll solve all of these problems, solar power is a major component. Efficient energy storage solutions like flywheel energy storage systems are also going to be an important part in leveling out the grid.
[via Earth Techling]