Innovation That Matters

Energy harvesting floors made from wood pulp


Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered that the properties of wood can be used to generate energy.

Solar and wind energy have been around for some time now. Increasingly, scientists and engineers are focussing on new ways of generating energy sustainably. In France, glow in the dark bacteria is being cultured to provide an alternative to electric lighting and in Hong Kong energy from a waste treatment plant is being used to power a spa. Now, engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are harvesting energy from footsteps.

The process uses wood pulp, a waste material. Inside wood pulp are cellulose nanofibers that have the potential to produce a charge if they are chemically treated, and encounter untreated nanofibers. Scientists have discovered that embedding those nanofibers in flooring enables floors to transform footsteps into electricity; energy which can then be used to charge batteries and power lights amongst other things. Associate professor Xudong Wang, explains his vision for the discovery, “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.” Those behind the finding envision the energy harvesting floors being laid in shopping malls and sports stadiums, lined by thousands of people.

As a waste product of numerous industries, wood pulp is cheap and abundant meaning these floors could be incredibly affordable. How else can waste products be harvested to produce energy?


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