Footsteps on floorboards could produce a new form of renewable energy


Scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison have found an ingenious, and eco-friendly, way to generate usable electricity from floorboards. Wood pulp contains cellulose nanofibers that, when treated with specific chemicals, are capable of producing electrical charge, as a result of contact with unprocessed fibers. The breakthrough, as pointed out by the team, could pave the way for technologies that would allow us to harness renewable energy from the force of our footsteps alone. Speaking about the research, Xudong Wang said:

We’ve been working a lot on harvesting energy from human activities.  way is to build something to put on people, and another way is to build something that has constant access to people. The ground is the most-used place.

According to the scientists, the technology would actually be quite inexpensive, given that wood pulp is a cheap and common byproduct in several industries. To create floorboards that can harness power from our footsteps, the team placed two oppositely-charged materials, a one-millimeter-thick sheet of treated cellulose nanofibers and a similar untreated fiber layer, next to each other.

The vibrations of our steps in turn bring the two materials close together, causing the surface electrons to travel from one layer to another. Thanks to the resultant charge imbalance, the particles try to return to their former position, which is when they are passed through a special, external circuit. The energy produced can then be used to generate electricity. Additional layers of the materials, Wang believe, could help increase the amount of power generated.

The research is part of a larger project focusing on triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs), which are basically nanoscale generators that rely on static electricity occurring naturally when certain pairs of materials come in contact with one another. At present, the team is trying to create a prototype floor that boasts this innovative technology. Talking about the breakthrough, which recently appeared in the Nano Energy journal, Wang added:

Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem. We haven’t converted those numbers into year of life for a floor yet, but I think with appropriate design it can definitely outlast the floor itself.

Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison

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