Is Wireless Power Really Green?

by | Aug 3, 2022 | Blog

Check out our new podcast Our World Without Wires, hosted by AirFuel President Sanjay Gupta! In our first episode Sanjay and Global Head of Marketing, Trish Thomas dive into the question, is wireless power really green? Read below to see how wireless power is affecting and benefiting the energy-conscious world! Find more episodes with the link below.

Our World Without Wires Podcast

Trish: Let’s start with a key question: is it safe to say that wired charging is going to be more efficient than wireless charging?


Sanjay: I think we should first start with the understanding that if you are well designed, a wireless power system is actually quite efficient. And depending on the power levels and the amount of energy that is being transported, a wireless power system can even be more efficient than a wired system. So it’s incorrect to generalize and say a wireless power system is less efficient than a wire.

Trish: So how can we make sure a phone is aligned on a wireless charger?

Sanjay: Well, the first thing to realize is human motor skills are not going to be good enough to be able to align the transmitters and the receivers without external aid, either having some dots. But imagine trying to put your phone, even on a dot with millimeter-level precision. I think it’s going to be very challenging to do. And we’ve seen some new phones now use magnets to achieve that precision in alignment. Right. So you can actually stick the transmitter and the receiver with the magnets that ensure that you are perfectly aligned. My challenge with that is it doesn’t feel like wireless charging anymore.

Trish: Whoa, whoa… are you hinting that there may be a better way to do wireless charging?

Sanjay: I think the most important thing to realize is wireless charging technology is in its infancy. Even though the science behind wireless charging was discovered more than 100 years ago, we are only seeing the first generation technology being deployed in the market today where you have the limitations that you need this high level of precision and can only charge one device at a time. And by the way, the transmitters need to be customized to the device that you’re charging and the power that they require. However, the next-generation technology will allow you to work around some of the limitations of first-generation technology. There’s been a lot of smart people working on wireless charging, and we now have the ability to charge multiple devices simultaneously do away with the requirement of having to put devices precisely. So you have a lot of spatial freedom in terms of where you put your devices to charge. Imagine if you make a desk where all of your devices are sitting on the desk and charge irrespective of where these devices are, rather than having to precisely place them in designated spots with a precision that most human beings don’t have. 


Trish:
Let’s get back to the topic for today – which is wireless power is “greener”. I am sure we will get an opportunity to talk about the magic the next-generation technologies are bringing. shift focus to another area crucial to sustainability. Most households are overflowing with excess cords and old devices that collect dust. The global power cords market is projected to increase by 6% per year between 2022 and 2026. And according to Globalwaste.org, a record 53.6 million metric tons of electronic waste was produced worldwide last year – and that figure will likely rise to 74 million metric tons per year by 2030. Right now, less than 18% of that waste is recycled. It’s really a sad situation.

Sanjay: Great observation. Today’s charging infrastructure is actually encouraging waste. Right. I was on a trip last week. I forgot my charger at home. Guess what I did? I bought another one. Right. I buy another one and I look at all of my charging accessories, cables, and bricks as just disposable at the end, we all buy a new phone, and you get a new cable or a new charger. Maybe some phones don’t come with it anymore. Right. And by the way, most of these cables and charging bricks are unique to the devices that I have. And we all end up buying more cards and more charges than we actually really need.

Trish: Do you think wireless power is somehow the answer to this?

Sanjay: Yes, because what wireless power allows me to do is avoid having the need to carry all these bricks and cables. Right. There is more weight in charging bricks and cables in my bag than the computing resources that I have. And if I can be sure that wherever I travel or wherever I’m at my home or my office, I have a wireless charging infrastructure deployed, and I don’t have to buy all of these disposable wired charging devices. Right. And I think that’s really the key thing that wireless allows us to do is take something that is disposable and ends up in my drawer and make it into an infrastructure that can be used and reused and reused for five years, ten years, even 20 years. Right. More charging cords and bricks. They last maybe less than two years, actually. Every time I get a new phone, I have to go buy a new charger, and a new cord and do everything to go along with it. That’s why people want a cord at their desks.

Trish: Are you saying that wireless power is better even though it is less efficient?

Sanjay: Yes. And this is a topic that I actually am approached often, and people criticize wireless power for encouraging, as you said, inefficiency in the system. And once I started to Peel the onion ear, I realized something very profound, which is the amount of energy required to produce a charger. Right. It doesn’t matter whether it’s wired or wireless. It really doesn’t matter is actually more than the amount of energy that flows through the charger in a year. Well, just think about it for a second. There’s more energy that goes into producing the Chargers and it actually flows through it. So it means if you’re going to try and optimize the amount of power that flows through it by a few percentage points, you’re actually working on the wrong problem. What you really have to do is to see how you can make either fewer Chargers and cords or make them more efficiently. Right. Let’s solve the right problem here. 

Trish: How can this be – this is so hard to believe… we really need to understand this a little bit more…

Sanjay: It’s all about the semiconductors. Right. We all know that semiconductor chips are everywhere. That’s what has made this entire consumer electronics possible. Right. Every device that we have is full of these semiconductor chips. But we all also have to realize that chipmaking is actually a hugely resource-intensive process. And when I’m talking about resources, I’m not just talking about the energy, but also the amount of water that is needed, all of the nasty chemicals that are needed to actually produce these chips. And here is a staggering number that kind of opened my eyes. Right. By 2030, which is not that far away, 20% of our total energy demand is going to come from this computing industry. Right. The information computing technology with the hardware, actually the hardware taking most of that. It’s not even about the operating cost of the system or the energy that I burned in operating these electronics. It’s really about producing these electronics. Some really smart folks at Harvard figured this out.

Trish: but a charger is more than just a few chips, right what about all of the wires, plastics, and so on…

Sanjay: Each electronic device, even a charger, has more than a few chips in it. If you open it up, you’ll see it has lots of chips. Right. And when I’m talking about the energy required to produce a charger, I’m even just talking about the energy required to produce a few chips in these Chargers. That is more than the amount of energy that is flowing through it. If you take into account the full picture, right. There are all of these other PCBs, other inductors, discrete parts, plastics, all of these other things, and copper and so on. The cost of a charger is actually way more than the cost of electricity. So we should really be focusing on how we are going to make something that we all treat as disposable into something that becomes an infrastructure. Every time I buy a new phone, I buy a new laptop. I don’t have to get all of the other stuff. And the way to do this is by deploying and making wireless charging and infrastructure so that you have the infrastructure. You buy it once it’s deployed, and now it’s going to last you five X or ten X. The amount of time as current charging, disposable, charging appliances at the end. That’s really what we have to do as an industry.

Trish: I would love to hear a little bit about some of the eco-friendly initiatives that can help reduce the impact of the wireless charging industry. Can you share a little bit about that?

Sanjay: I think there are a couple of things that are really important. Right. We all are moving to an economy where everything is moving on batteries, including our mobility vehicles. We’re also excited about electric cars and electric buses and even electric airplanes. Now guess what they all need? They all need batteries, right. The size actually is very interesting. The thickness of my phone is largely dictated by the size of the battery I have in there. Right. And we all know these modern batteries have an ugly sight to them. They all have these toxic chemicals, hard-to-mine chemicals. I’m not going to get into all of those details, but we know there is a lot to be improved there. What if we could start to now make devices with either smaller batteries or maybe even no batteries at all? Right. I think that’s really what wireless power is going to allow us to do. Let’s think about it. We are all so excited about IoT. We have IoT sensors everywhere. My house is filled with probably 100 different IoT sensors of all different kinds. What if I could make all of them without any batteries and I could deliver power to them wirelessly? Right. We have the technology, air fuel, and RF wireless power that can actually do it. It can deliver small amounts of power to my temperature sensor and all of my IoT sensors, for example, or Bluetooth location beacons wirelessly so that they don’t have batteries in them. Think about how beautiful that would be. These devices could last as long as the electronics would last and not have to worry about having to deal with the operational costs involved with a human being running around to replace batteries and these batteries ending up in a landfill at the end.

Trish: I heard an interesting statistic about this, I guess, about these industrial-grade sensors that the sensors themselves are pretty cheap. They might cost maybe $50 on average, but the wiring to keep them powered or having to add a big battery to them can exceed $1,000 per sensor. So if you have this continuous wireless charging capability around them and you can eliminate that cost and also the labor that goes with the maintenance of it, the impact is really pretty profound, isn’t it?

Sanjay: Absolutely. And by the way, if you had to deploy wires and as you said, you have these wire harnesses running around, imagine how much more challenging it will be to change their location. Or if the new factory configuration shows up and you have to move these wires around. It’s a very disruptive process. If you have wireless charging, all of that waste has gone away. All the labor associated with having to move these sensors around is actually zero. You can just put them wherever you want to. And things are working right now.

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