There has been an active search for cost-effective photovoltaic devices since the development of the first solar cells in the 1950s (refs 1-3). In conventional solid-state solar cells, electron-hole pairs are created by light absorption in a semiconductor, with charge separation and collection accomplished under the influence of electric fields within the semiconductor. Here we report a multilayer photovoltaic device structure in which photon absorption instead occurs in photoreceptors deposited on the surface of an ultrathin metal-semiconductor junction Schottky diode. Photoexcited electrons are transferred to the metal and travel ballistically to--and over--the Schottky barrier, so providing the photocurrent output. Low-energy (approximately 1 eV) electrons have surprisingly long ballistic path lengths in noble metals, allowing a large fraction of the electrons to be collected. Unlike conventional cells, the semiconductor in this device serves only for majority charge transport and separation. Devices fabricated using a fluorescein photoreceptor on an Au/TiO2/Ti multilayer structure had typical open-circuit photovoltages of 600-800 mV and short-circuit photocurrents of 10-18 micro A cm(-2) under 100 mW cm(-2) visible band illumination: the internal quantum efficiency (electrons measured per photon absorbed) was 10 per cent. This alternative approach to photovoltaic energy conversion might provide the basis for durable low-cost solar cells using a variety of materials.