Using Ultrasonic Waves To Charge Underwater and Body-Implanted Electronic Devices

Schematic of wireless charging of a body-implanted electronic device using an ultrasound probe. Photo credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

New technology improves the efficiency of wireless energy transfer from ultrasonic waves through triboelectric power generation. Ultrasonic waves have applications in wireless charging of batteries under water or in body-implanted electronic devices.

The number of patients using implanted electronic devices such as artificial pacemakers and defibrillators is increasing worldwide as the population ages and medical technologies advance. Currently, batteries for devices implanted in the body are being replaced through a cutting operation, which can lead to health complications. As a result, a novel wireless energy transfer charging technique is being developed that can charge devices implanted in the body without surgery. The same technology can also be used to charge the batteries of underwater devices such as sensors used to monitor the condition of underwater cables.

The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (BOXPresident: Seok-Jin Yoon) announced that a research team led by Dr. Hyun-Cheol Song at the Electronic Materials Research Center has developed a wireless ultrasonic energy transmission technology that can be applied in the above research areas.

Wireless AET over Solid Media

Wireless acoustic energy transfer into implantable devices in pork (skin and flesh) as a substitute for the human body. Photo credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

Electromagnetic (EM) induction and magnetic resonance can be used in wireless power transmission. EM induction is currently used in smartphones and wireless headphones; However, its use is limited as EM waves cannot penetrate water or metal, resulting in a short charging distance. In addition, this method cannot easily be used to recharge implanted medical devices since the heat generated during charging is harmful. The magnetic resonance method assumes that the resonance frequencies of the magnetic field generator and the transmitter are exactly the same; In addition, there is a risk of interference with other wireless communication frequencies such as Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The KIST team therefore decided to use ultrasonic waves as the energy transfer medium instead of EM waves or magnetic fields. Sonar using ultrasonic waves is commonly used in underwater environments, and the safety of using ultrasonic waves in the human body has been guaranteed in various medical applications such as diagnosis of organs or fetal conditions. However, the existing acoustic energy transmission methods are not easily commercialized due to the low transmission efficiency of acoustic energy.

Wireless underwater AET system

Underwater wireless acoustic power transmission system capable of simultaneously driving 200 LEDs and one wireless sensor in real time. Photo credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST)

The research team developed a model that receives ultrasonic waves and converts them into electrical energy using the triboelectric principle, which enables small mechanical vibrations to be effectively converted into electrical energy. By adding a ferroelectric material to the triboelectric generator, the ultrasonic energy transfer efficiency was significantly improved from less than 1% to more than 4%. It was also possible to charge more than 8mW of power at a distance of 6cm, which was enough to power 200 LEDs at the same time or communicate Bluetooth sensor data underwater. In addition, the newly developed device had high energy conversion efficiency and generated negligible amounts of heat.

dr Explaining the significance of the findings, Song said: “This study demonstrated that wireless charging can power electronic devices using ultrasonic waves. If the stability and efficiency of the device are further improved in the future, this technology can be used to wirelessly power implantable sensors or deep-sea sensors where battery replacement is cumbersome.”

Reference: “Ferroelectrically enhanced contact electrification enables efficient acoustic energy transfer through liquid and solid media” by Hyun Soo Kim, Sunghoon Hur, Dong-Gyu Lee, Joonchul Shin, Huimin Qiao, Seunguk Mun, Hoontaek Lee, Wonkyu Moon, Yunseok Kim, Jeong Min Baik, Chong-Yun Kang, Jong Hoon Jung and Hyun-Cheol Song, January 22, 2022, Energy and Environmental Sciences.
DOI: 10.1039/D1EE02623B

KIST was established in 1966 as the first government-funded research institute to establish a national development strategy based on science and technology and disseminate various industrial technologies to develop major industries. KIST is now elevating the status of Korean science and technology through world-leading innovative research and development.

This research was supported by the National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant and the National Research Council of Science & Technology (NST) grant funded by the Ministry of Science and ICT (Minister: Hye-Sook Lim) and the Korea Institute of Energy Technology was funded by the Evaluation and Planning Grant (KETEP) funded by the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Energy (Minister: Sung Wook Moon). The research results were published in the latest issue of the “Energy and Environmental Sciences“ (IF: 38.5, Top 0.182% in JCR), a renowned international trade journal in the field of energy.

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