The elegance and ease of a world without cords

A recent article in the Edmonton Journal explained how a team led by Thomas Thundat, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Oil Sands Molecular Engineering at the University of Alberta, is working to bring us a world without cords using a new technique of electricity transmission called single wire transmission.

Instead of living with a messy tangle of electric cords around your computer or in the kitchen, Thundat’s new quasi-wireless world would see our appliances powered by a strip of foil under the counter or desktop—and we would have no worries about electric shocks.

By energizing a metal object with alternating current, researchers have managed to create a wireless hot spot on a table surface. The hot spot can be made from something as readily available as tin foil or a metal night stand, which acts as a transmitter and sends the electric energy into a coil in the appliance.

Users can then switch on a lamp, or even charge a cell phone or portable computer, by simply placing the appliance on the hot spot. The electricity from a power source bounces back and forth between the conductive surface and the receiver, and the lamp or cellphone charger picks up the bouncing electricity.

These applications can be taken even further, beyond our homes and into greener industrial practices. Thundat’s research chair is in oil sands molecular engineering, and he says the technology could be used to heat the oil sands underground by putting rods deep into the ground and sending down electricity. This would avoid using the massive quantity of water currently sent underground in the form of steam. In addition, the dirty water in tailings ponds (basins containing waste oil from oil sands processing) could be heated to increase evaporation, leaving only dry tailings to eventually be spread on the land.