It’s possible! According to recently published research in the Journal of Applied Physics, University of Michigan researchers have discovered, theoretically, how to harness the mysterious magnetic effect of light. This could lead to the manufacture of panels where the cell itself turns into an “optical battery.”
With the lilting title of “Optically-Induced Charge Separation and Terahertz Emission in Unbiased Dielectrics” the paper explains a phenomenon that no one thought should be able to occur. The researchers found that when a certain intensity of light travels through a non-conducting material, magnetic effects are created that are 100 million times stronger than what should be expected.
This technology could be used to create solar panels with “efficiencies of ~10% or more” which is comparable to the efficiency of current solar cells. This new type of cell could be produced at a much reduced cost, however, since the cell would have no need for a semiconductor.
Again, this is all theoretical - no practical applications have been carried out yet. In the end, this may lay to rest in the scientific junk-heap along with Cold Fusion or Bhaskara’s Wheel.
But there is also a chance that in next decade this could lead to wholesale change in the solar industry. In fact, this could be exactly the type of innovation the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot Initiative is looking for (the program just released “Incubator” funding for up to $15 million in projects).
So this is not an investable story? Not yet. Is this the type of news that gets me excited about the alternative energy industry? You bet!