Duke University researchers have demonstrated the feasibility of wireless power transfer using low-frequency magnetic fields over distances much larger than the size of the transmitter and receiver.
The advance comes from a team of researchers in Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering, who used metamaterials to create a “superlens” that focuses magnetic fields. The superlens translates the magnetic field emanating from one power coil onto its twin nearly a foot away, inducing an electric current in the receiving coil.
The experiment was the first time such a scheme has successfully sent power safely and efficiently through the air with an efficiency many times greater than what could be achieved with the same setup minus the superlens.
Going forward, Urzhumov wants to drastically upgrade the system to make it more suitable for realistic power transfer scenarios, such as charging mobile devices as they move around in a room. He plans to build a dynamically tunable superlens, which can control the direction of its focused power cone.
If successful, the usable volume of “power hot spots” should be substantially expanded. It may not be easy, however, to maintain the efficiency of the power beam as it gets steered to a high degree. But that is a challenge that Urzhumov and his colleagues look forward to dealing with.
Each side of each constituent cube of the “superlens” is set with a long, spiraling copper coil. The end of each coil is connected to its twin on the reverse side of the wall. Credit courtesy of Guy Lipworth, graduate student researcher at Duke University
“For the first time we have demonstrated that the efficiency of magneto-inductive wireless power transfer can be enhanced over distances many times larger than the size of the receiver and transmitter,” said Yaroslav Urzhumov, assistant research professor of electrical and computer engineering at Duke University. “This is important because if this technology is to become a part of everyday life, it must conform to the dimensions of today’s pocket-sized mobile electronics.”
In the experiment, Yaroslav and the joint Duke-Toyota team created a square superlens, which looks like a few dozen giant Rubik’s cubes stacked together. Both the exterior and interior walls of the hollow blocks are intricately etched with a spiraling copper wire reminiscent of a microchip. The geometry of the coils and their repetitive nature form a metamaterial that interacts with magnetic fields in such a way that the fields are transmitted and confined into a narrow cone in which the power intensity is much higher.
On one side of the superlens, the researchers placed a small copper coil with an alternating electric current running through it, which creates a magnetic field around the coil. That field, however, drops in intensity and power transfer efficiency extremely quickly, the further away it gets.
“If your electromagnet is one inch in diameter, you get almost no power just three inches away,” said Urzhumov. “You only get about 0.1 percent of what’s inside the coil.” But with the superlens in place, he explained, the magnetic field is focused nearly a foot away with enough strength to induce noticeable electric current in an identically sized receiver coil.
Urzhumov noted that metamaterial-enhanced wireless power demonstrations have been made before at a research laboratory of Mitsubishi Electric, but with one important caveat: the distance the power was transmitted was roughly the same as the diameter of the power coils. In such a setup, the coils would have to be quite large to work over any appreciable distance.
Enhancements in power transmission coefficient in the range of +15 to +30 dB are observed for all transfer distances from 8–24 cm; those transfer distances are 4–12 times greater than the diameter of both transmitter and receiver coils. Much higher enhancement is anticipated with larger-aperture superlenses and multi-turn, self-resonant Tx/Rx coils.
The current device looks similar to the square air filters that go into the vent of a house. It is a few square feet in size and about 2-3 inches thick.
This small copper coil and its twin were used in the experiment to send and receive power using electromagnetic fields. In the background is the metamaterial “superlens” that dramatically increased the power transfer’s range. Credit courtesy of Guy Lipworth and Joshua Ensworth, graduate student researchers at Duke University
The ability to wirelessly power electrical devices is becoming of greater urgency as a component of energy conservation and sustainability efforts. Due to health and safety concerns, most wireless power transfer (WPT) schemes utilize very low frequency, quasi-static, magnetic fields; power transfer occurs via magneto-inductive (MI) coupling between conducting loops serving as transmitter and receiver. At the “long range” regime – referring to distances larger than the diameter of the largest loop – WPT efficiency in free space falls off as (1/d)6; power loss quickly approaches 100% and limits practical implementations of WPT to relatively tight distances between power source and device. A “superlens”, however, can concentrate the magnetic near fields of a source. Here, we demonstrate the impact of a magnetic metamaterial (MM) superlens on long-range near-field WPT, quantitatively confirming in simulation and measurement at 13–16 MHz the conditions under which the superlens can enhance power transfer efficiency compared to the lens-less free-space system.