Scientists develop a magic floor that can convert footstep energy into electricity

footstep energy

Flooring can be made from any number of sustainable materials. This makes it an eco-friendly feature in homes and businesses alike.

Now, researchers from University of Wisconsin-Madison develop an inexpensive, simple method to convert footsteps into usable electricity.

The finding is published in the journal Nano Energy.

This new method uses a common waste material: wood pulp. The pulp, which is already a common component of flooring, is partly made of cellulose nanofibers.

When chemically treated, these tiny fibers can produce an electrical charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers.

When the nanofibers are embedded within flooring, they’re able to produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries.

And because wood pulp is a cheap, abundant and renewable waste product of several industries, flooring that incorporates the new technology could be as affordable as conventional materials.

While there are similar materials for harnessing footstep energy, they’re costly, non-recyclable, and impractical at a large scale.

One advantage of this footstep energy is that it doesn’t depend on fair weather. Researchers who study roadside energy harvesting methods see the ground as holding great renewable energy potential well beyond its limited fossil fuel reserves.

Heavy traffic floors in hallways and places like stadiums and malls that incorporate this technology may produce significant amounts of energy.

Each functional portion inside such flooring has two differently charged materials, including the cellulose nanofibers, and would be a millimeter or less thick.

The floor could include several layers of the functional unit for higher energy output.

The electron transfer creates a charge imbalance that naturally wants to right itself but as the electrons return, they pass through an external circuit.

Researchers suggest that the technology can be easily incorporated into all kinds of flooring once it’s ready for the market.

They are now optimizing the technology, and hopefully to build an educational prototype in a high-profile spot on the UW-Madison campus where they can demonstrate the concept.

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Citation: Yao C, et al. (2016). Triboelectric nanogenerators and power-boards from cellulose nanofibrils and recycled materials. Nano Energy, 30: 103-108. DOI: 10.1016/j.nanoen.2016.09.036.
Figure legend: This image is for illustrative purposes only.