There are both big ideas and small ideas for generating electricity from renewable sources. For example, even though there are now gigantic solar energy farms producing vast amounts of electricity, there are also plans to embed solar technology in the windows of homes and businesses to capture even more of the sun’s energy.
A research group at University of Wisconsin-Madison has come up with a technology to produce electricity from the floors of homes and businesses. Flooring can be made from a variety of sustainable materials. It can certainly be an eco-friendly feature of our buildings. But these researchers believe it can also be a useful source of energy.
Their method makes use of wood pulp, which is already a common ingredient in flooring. Cellulose nanofibers – which are a component of wood pulp – can be chemically treated so that they produce an electric charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers. The resultant technology is known as a triboelectric nanogenerator or TENG. This uses essentially the same phenomenon that produces static electricity in clothing. By embedding thin layers of these materials in flooring, the vibration of people walking on the floors would generate electricity – perhaps enough to power lights or charge batteries.
According to the researchers, heavy foot traffic in hallways and places like stadiums and malls that incorporate the technology could actually produce significant amounts of electricity. Because wood pulp is a cheap, abundant and renewable waste product of several industries, in principle flooring that incorporates the TENG technology could be as affordable as conventional materials. The researchers hope to build a prototype installation in a high-profile spot on the UW-Madison campus.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Precourt/University of Wisconsin-Madison.