Two University of Wisconsin-Madison engineers have developed an innovative technology to produce electricity from footsteps.

The university's associate professor of materials science and engineering Xudong Wang and his graduate student Chunhua Yao developed the method, which uses common waste material wood pulp.

The pulp is partly made of cellulose nanofibers, chemically treated tiny fibers that produce an electrical charge when they come into contact with untreated nanofibers. When embedded within flooring, nanofibers produce electricity, which can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries.

"Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem."

Wang and Yao's new technology could be as affordable as conventional materials due to the abundance of wood pulp. It is also more cost-effective than existing materials used to harness nanofibre energy, which are not recyclable and are impractical on an industrial scale.

According to Wang, chemically treated cellulose nanofibers are a simple, low-cost, and effective alternative for harnessing this broadly existing mechanical energy source. He says: "Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem".  

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Wang is now optimising the technology and building an educational prototype to install at the university as a demonstration.

Image: Associate professor Xudong Wang holds a prototype of the energy harvesting technology. Photo: Courtesy of