New Discoveries In Harnessing The Sun’s Energy
By James Donahue
There has been a fierce tug of war between the old, established and polluting energy systems and
exciting new discoveries in green technology. It has gone on for years . . . even before the day that Henry Ford began producing
the first low-cost gasoline powered automobile.
People that know their history know that there were experiments in other forms of energy to power
those early “horseless carriages,” including steam and electric power. The gasoline engine won out because crude
oil was easy to find and the fuel to run those early cars was cheap and plentiful.
Great profits were made in oil. The corporations that produced the fuel and many other products
from the oil industry have grown large and powerful. Their financial stranglehold on political leadership has had a lot to
do with blocking advancement of the new and badly needed green energy technologies.
Readers might be surprised to know that the first solar cell was invented in 1883 by Charles Fritts.
The early solar cells had energy conversion problems but experimentation continued. By 1941 Russell Ohl produced a silicon
solar cell that was a major step toward solving this problem. Since the mid-1950s the concept of capturing solar energy via
solar cells and solar panels has evolved into a workable energy source for heating water, generating limited electric power
and heating buildings.
A solar cell is described as any device that directly converts the energy in light into electrical
energy through the process of photovoltaics.
There has been a reluctant by many people to invest in solar panels, however. They resist the high
investment and then having bulky, black panels attached to the roofs of their homes. The panels have not worked as well in
northern, colder areas where there is less sunshine during the winter months when those panels are needed most. Also the solar
cells within these panels have been found to be easily damaged. All it takes is one hail storm or a few flying tree branches
and those costly panels are out of commission.
But help is on the way. Researchers at Georgia Tech University are working on a way of using fiber
optics cables coated with zinc oxide to capture sunlight and turn it into electric energy. These tiny optic wires, no more
than about three times the width of a human hair, could be installed on the roof of a building, on cars, or just about anywhere
with almost total invisibility.
The researchers say these fiber optic cables will be relatively easy and inexpensive to produce.
They just dip the cable into heated zinc oxide, let it dry, then attach it on the walls or roof of a house. With one end of
the fiber exposed to light and the other end to some wiring, electricity starts to flow.
Best of all, the new system won’t be dependent on sunlight to work. Raymond Saluccio, CEO
of EarthSure, a New Jersey based company that plans to produce the cables, says they work either from sunlight or artificial
light. He says the thin little wires can generate solar power 24 hours a day, seven days a week in buildings where the lights
are always on.
But wait, the news is getting even better. A team of researchers at University of Michigan say
they have discovered a surprising magnetic effect of light that they believe could lead to generating solar power without
the traditional semiconductor-based solar cells.
Stephen Rand, a professor in Physics, in a paper published in the Journal of Applied Physics, said
the team discovered “a very odd interaction of electric and magnetic components “that has been overlooked for
more than 100 years.”
Rand and his team discovered that when light of a certain intensity travels through a material
that does not conduct electricity, the light field generates magnetic effects that are 100 million times stronger than anyone
would have expected. This produces a strong electric effect
Rand said the discovery suggests that a new type of solar cell may be possible. He explained that
in traditional solar cells, the light is absorbed by the material and it generates heat. The new discovery may mean that “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,” he wrote.
Rand said the light’s electric field causes a charge separation similar to what occurs in
The discovery could dramatically reduce the cost of solar power.