Innovative Wood Floors Made of Waste Pulp Generate Renewable Energy

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How do you make a renewable, natural, oxygen-producing, CO2-storing material even more sustainable? Make it as close to zero-waste as possible. Wood waste left over after milling lumber already gets put to myriad valuable uses, from paper products to biomass fuel, and a new innovation will actually enable it to produce clean energy. Engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have discovered a way to manufacture wood floors embedded with wood pulp nanofibers that generate electricity when you step on them.

Chemically treated, tiny cellulose fibers within the waste pulp produce an electrical charge when they come in contact with untreated nano fibers. Stepping on wood floors enhanced with these fibers generates electricity, effectively harnessing energy from footsteps without the need for complex equipment.

Published in the journal Nano Energy on September 24th, 2016, the method is ingeniously simple and inexpensive, with the potential to produce electricity that can be harnessed to power lights or charge batteries. The technology can easily be incorporated into virtually every kind of wood flooring that’s already on the market, including Eastern White Pine.

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The functional section of the wood containing the electricity-producing fibers takes up less than a millimeter in thickness, so it doesn’t significantly alter the shape or look of the wood. To produce more energy, manufacturers could simply add more layers.

The technology is currently being tested and optimized on the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, with a prototype in development to demonstrate the concept.

“Our initial test in our lab shows that it works for millions of cycles without any problem,” says Xudong Wang, an associate professor of materials science and engineering who’s working on the project. “We haven’t converted those numbers into year of life for a floor yet, but I think with appropriate design it can definitely outlast the floor itself.”

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