Since the sun’s high-energy rays have originally been studied as a potential energy source, research has only ever explored the conversion of solar energy into electrical power through storing heat in solar cells. This makes use of light’s electric property. However, light contains a magnetic component as well, and researchers of the University of Michigan are manipulating this property to devise a new source of solar power!
Like a great deal of advanced clean energy methods, a steep cost arises for energy sources which are most often much less efficient than fossil-fuel burning. The prime advantage of drawing energy from the magnetism of photons is that it rids the necessity for expensive solar cells required to collect and conduct electrical charges.
The science behind generating power in this manner stems from directing light into well insulated materials that don’t conduct electricity. With a surface containing this simple non-conductive property, a massive magnetic effect—100 million times larger than expected—is created. This has the strength equal to that seen with the use of electric fields and solar cells.
Magnetic fields essentially modify electrical charges to create a voltage that can in turn be used as a power source. This effect has been proven to be exhibited on materials such as glass.
One drawback is that energy can only be extracted from this system of light magnetism by concentrating 10 million watts of sunlight onto each square centimeter. This confers a substantial engineering challenge, primarily because normal sunlight only shines 0.01 watts per square centimeter.
With the ability to focus enough sunlight onto the right medium, this technique of power formation is very feasible, and has 10% efficiency (equal to solar cell efficiency) of converting the sun’s energy to a useable form human activity. This opens up great opportunities for a positive approach of providing power!