Duke Study Says Wireless Electricity Transfer A Step Closer With New 'Metamaterials'

By Tracey E. Schelmetic June 03, 2011

If you've ever tried to use a laptop in a doctor's waiting room, airport or another public place, you've probably done the “outlet search”: an often fruitless search for an available place to plug in. You've possibly longed for a future invention that would allow you to charge your electronic devices without the use of a cord. Up until recently, the technology existed – at least on paper – but it was so inefficient as to be nearly useless.

Researchers at Duke University say they may have changed that, with the development of something called “metamaterials, or special composite materials, reported LiveScience.

These metamaterials could improve the processes of wireless transfer of electricity, resulting in much less waste. While a lot of electricity is typically lost during the transfer from power source to device with a wireless charger, these new metamaterials could keep much of that energy intact.

The study cites one example of a metamaterial, an array of copper conducting loops. Users would place the array at a given point between the device and its power source, and electricity would be transferred directly through it, reported LiveScience.

So how long are you going to have to wait? Metamaterials might be available for real-world applications within as few as two or three years, said Yaroslav Urzhumov, an assistant professor who headed the Duke study.

While there are a number of wireless charging devices on the market – including the popular Powermat, which offers wireless charging for phones and iPods – Urzhumov says using metamaterials would allow for a significant increase in both range and power.

“Our proposition is an extension of the magnetic induction-based, near-field coupling technology,” Urzhumov told InnovationNewsDaily. “It is based on the same fundamental principle, Faraday's law of induction; however, it ramps up the power-transfer efficiency by increasing the mutual inductive coupling between the transmitter and the receiver.”

By ramping up the efficiency, metamaterials could help charge bigger appliances and gadgets, including electric automobiles, Urzhumov said. They could even allow people to charge devices underwater.

An advantage of metamaterials, Urzhumov told InnovationNewsDaily, would be to combat the problem of corrosion. “Exposing metals to the aggressively oxidizing environment leads to fast corrosion and subsequent loss of contact,” he said.

Even with such a breakthrough, though, Urzhumov thinks wireless electricity will remain a niche sector.

“I don't think electrical power transfer will be 100 percent wireless, ever,” Urzhumov said. “We know that the most efficient power-transfer device is a good old conductor.”

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Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Jennifer Russell

TechZone360 Contributor

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