October 30, 2016

A new Source of Clean Energy is right Under your Feet – Literally

A new Source of Clean Energy is right Under your Feet – Literally

Wooden floors could soon become a new source of renewable energy. Photo Credit: Flickr

We tend not to think much of floors – certainly not when it comes to power generation. There they are under our feet so we can walk on them, but they hardly spring to mind when we think about generating clean energy for homes and offices. For that we have solar panels and wind turbines. But what if floors, too, could become valuable new sources of renewable energy?

It turns out they can. Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, in the United States, have developed a simple method whereby they can convert footsteps into usable electricity. And they have done this by using a common waste material – wood pulp.

Wood pulp, a material frequently used in flooring, is partly composed of cellulose nanofibers. When chemically treated, these tiny fibers can create an electrical charge upon coming into contact with untreated nanofibers, like those on the soles of your slippers. When you embed these chemically treated nanofibers in flooring materials, they can “produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries,” the scientists explain.

Material scientist Xudong Wang holds a prototype of a new piece of energy harvesting technology, which uses wood pulp and harnesses nanofibers. Photo Credit: Stephanie Precourt

Material scientist Xudong Wang holds a prototype of a new piece of energy harvesting technology, which uses wood pulp and harnesses nanofibers. Photo Credit: Stephanie Precourt

“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,” they add. In other words, you would not have to pay extra for the new material that could generate electricity for you on the cheap – or, rather, for free – as you simply walked about.

And hey presto, there you have it: floors that create power for homes and offices in yet another new avenue for clean energy generation. Great stuff? You bet!

The new research field dedicated to harvesting green energy from as yet unexplored sources, like floors, is called “roadside energy harvesting.” Its proponents believe that these sources, when fully explored, will be able to rival the powers (pardon the pun) of solar power. Better yet: they won’t depend on clear sunny skies to work. They will work in fair weather and foul equally well.

“Roadside energy harvesting requires thinking about the places where there is abundant energy we could be harvesting,” explains Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at the American university who has spearheaded the project on chemically treated cellulose nanofibers used in flooring. “We’ve been working a lot on harvesting energy from human activities. One 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.”

The new technology could work especially well in the hallways of offices, shopping malls and other places which plenty of people traverse daily. By doing so, they could help generate clean electricity for those buildings simply by legging it around.

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