One of the major barriers between solar energy and solar-derived electricity is solar cells themselves--commercial solar cells aren’t very efficient at converting sunlight to electricity, but they are the best thing we’ve got. Now, a team of University of Michigan researchers have potentially devised a better way to convert solar energy into electricity: get rid of the semiconductor-based solar cells altogether and tap into the magnetic effects of light.
The researcher say the’ve essentially found a way to make an “optical battery” by extracting a very strong magnetic field from light, which generally exhibits weak magnetic effects. Those effects are generally so weak that until now scientists ignored them altogether. But the Michigan team found that by running light through a non-conductive material at the right intensity, the light field can generate magnetic effects 100 million times stronger than previously thought.