Scientists have devised a method of converting footsteps into electricity. Researchers from Switzerland have created an energy-harvesting system that employs wood with a silicone coating as well as embedded nanocrystals to generate enough energy to operate LED lightbulbs and other gadgets by delving into an unexpected energy source, wooden flooring. A nanogenerator is a device that consists of two pieces of wood sandwiched between electrodes.
When stepped on, the wood pieces get electrically charged due to contact and separation, a phenomenon known as the triboelectric effect. When electrons may travel from one thing to another, a phenomenon similar to the static electricity generated when you rub the balloon on the hair for just a few seconds, this effect happens. According to Guido Panzarasa, the senior study author, a group leader in the professorship of the wood materials science at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich as well as Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Dübendorf, “if a material is tribo-positive, it tends to lose electrons, and if it is tribo-negative, it tends to attract electrons.”
“Wood neither loses nor strongly attracts electrons. As a result, wood is poor triboelectric material. Still, it is a great building material,” he added, saying that the material is particularly advantageous because it is a natural and renewable commodity that also holds carbon dioxide.
To improve the triboelectric properties of wood, the researchers covered one piece with a common silicone that gets electrons when it comes into contact with it. In contrast, other pieces were embellished using nanocrystals that lose electrons when they contact it. They discovered that radially cut the spruce –major building material in Europe – produced 80 times more power than wild wood after evaluating several types of wood.
The researchers discovered that a wood floor prototype having a surface area barely smaller than the A4 piece of paper generated enough energy to power home LED lighting and small electric-powered gadgets like calculators. According to an article published in the journal Matter, they successfully ignited a lamp using the prototype when the human adult trod on it.
“Imagine laying down a floor with these sorts of devices and the quantity of energy that might be generated simply by people walking,” Panzarasa added. “Our goal was to show that wood might be modified to become triboelectric using very environmentally benign methods. Spruce is inexpensive and readily available, with good mechanical properties.”
Prof Nick Jenkins, who serves as the leader of Cardiff University’s centre for the integrated renewable power generation as well as a supply research group, who was not involved in the study, proposed that such a device may be used to power an Internet of Things device. “Of course, if a constant source of energy is required, like for lighting, continuous motion is required to supply the input power.”