Wood floors are beautiful, but what if they could generate renewable energy too? Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have designed revolutionary wood floors that harvest energy from footsteps. Not only can they create power, but the floors are also sustainable because they utilize wood pulp that would most likely be wasted otherwise.

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Multiple industries end up with wood pulp as a waste product, but inside wood pulp are cellulose nanofibers that have the potential to produce a charge if they are chemically treated and encounter untreated nanofibers. Embedding the nanofibers in flooring enables those floors to transform footsteps into electricity for charging batteries or powering lights. Because wood pulp is cheap and abundant, these energy-harvesting floors could be incredibly affordable.

Related: Shoe Generator Harvests Power from Walking

The chemically treated cellulose nanofibers are put into what UW-Madison describes as functional portions. These thin layers are one millimeter thick or less, and several of the layers could be put into floors to generate even more energy.

Associate professor Xudong Wang, co-author of a paper published by Nano Energy on the flooring, envisions the energy harvesting floors laid in malls or stadiums trafficked by thousands of people. He said in a statement, “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.”

Wang is developing the technology now and hopes to place a prototype in a well-trafficked place at UW-Madison. He says the technology is durable and research shows it would hold up for “millions of cycles” and could even outlive the floor. Four UW-Madison engineers and one researcher from the USDA Forest Service‘s Forest Products Laboratory contributed to the paper.

+ University of Wisconsin-Madison

Images via Pixabay and Stephanie Precourt/University of Wisconsin-Madison