When considering sources of green energy, solar and wind naturally come to mind. However, a recent study published by researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison shows that footstep energy captured from specifically designed flooring may offer a sustainable, low-cost alternative that does not rely on weather but instead on human movement.
The discovery originated from lead researcher and associate professor, Xudong Wang’s fascination with triboelectric nanogenerator technology (TENG). TENG is a type of energy harvesting that converts mechanical energy in the form of small physical charges into electricity. By applying some of the unique elements of the technology, Wang and his research team were able to show that the electricity generated from the interaction between two materials with different charges could have a practical application.
The key to this new renewable energy source is wood pulp. A common by-product of various industries, wood pulp is inexpensive and renewable, making it an ideal choice for large-scale applications of the energy harvesting technology. Moreover, it is already a common component of flooring thus allowing it to be an easily accessible vessel for the chemically treated cellulose nanofibers that react against their untreated counterparts and create electricity.
In an article published by Phys.Org, Wang shared that his team envisions placing the technology into flooring in locations with high amounts of foot traffic where the vibrations from millions of footsteps could potentially generate enough electricity required to light up rooms and charge batteries.
The idea of creating a partnership between flooring and energy falls within an environmentally focused field of research known as “roadside energy harvesting”.
“Roadside energy harvesting requires thinking about the places where there is abundant energy we could be harvesting”, Wang explained to Will Cusman of Phys.Org. “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.”
With the ever-present need to reduce each person’s carbon footprint, the utilization of chemically treated cellulose nanofibers and wood pulp not only provides everyday individuals with the opportunity to include their footstep energy in to the generation of renewable energy, but also suggests that there are still numerous untapped energy sources waiting to be discovered.