New Flooring May Generate Electricity By Footsteps Using Triboelectricity

Say what?! Let’s break this headline down a bit. Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison may have invented a new type of flooring made from wood pulp that generates electricity just by walking on it. They were able to successfully do this using triboelectricity, which is energy produced by vibrations/friction. According to sciencedaily.com, it works like this: “The triboelectric effect is a type of contact electrification in which certain materials become electrically charged after coming into contact with another different material, and are then separated.” Think about how static electricity works…this is pretty much the same thing.

 

triboelectricity

Chemically treated wood pulp flooring prototype able to generate electricity with footsteps. Source: Stephanie Precourt/UW-Madison College of Engineering, smithsonianmag.com

 

It was professor Xudong Wang and his team of researchers and engineers who invented this wood pulp flooring able to generate electricity. Using triboelectricity, the team treated a wood board with a chemical that is able to attract electrons. This chemical is made up of two differently charged substances that when walked on, produce electrons. These electrons are then obtained by a capacitor (a device used to store an electric charge), which stores the energy for plugging in batteries, or any other type of devices. 

 

The best part of this invention is what the floor is made out of. Wood pulp is recycled material from wood, commonly used to make paper products. It’s renewable, inexpensive, and plentiful! Unlike solar renewable counterparts that use costly solar panels, Wang believes this inexpensive flooring would be a great renewable alternative that could go a long way because of its recycled properties. 

 

Wang’s prototype is four square inches, and can produce one milliwatt of electricity. According to the team’s calculations from the prototype, a 10ft. x 10ft. floor should produce energy equivalent to that of 30% of an iPhone 6 battery, which is 2 Joules per second. This calculation assumes that 10 people walking on the floor take two steps every one second.

 

The next step for Wang and his engineers is to turn their prototype into larger wood panels. Using triboelectricity, the team will test these large panels in a high foot-traffic area to really see how much electricity can be produced. They will be testing their upcoming work in the Forest Product Laboratory in Madison, WI. It is said that the laboratory is supplying the team with the wood pulp, and helping them make a bigger prototype to possibly make the dream of a U.S. alternative renewable energy source become reality.

 

Sources:

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/innovation/move-over-solar-theres-new-energy-right-our-feet-180960978/?no-ist

https://www.sciencedaily.com/terms/triboelectric_effect.htm