Campus News

New flooring at Union South generates renewable energy

The new "energy harvesting floor" at the entrance to Union South records the energy produced by a person's footstep.

Image By: Lawrence Andrea

If you see the new elevated wood flooring at the entrance to Union South, don’t worry; you can step on it.

When people walk over the new wooden panels, the flooring records the energy produced from their footsteps. According to Xudong Wang, a materials science and engineering professor at UW-Madison who is leading the project, the flooring is an “energy harvesting floor” built on the principle of the “triboelectric effect.”

“There are different layers of materials that are put into the floor,” Wang said. “Those layers have been treated and have different capabilities. Once people stand on top of the floor, those layers squeeze together, and electrons are transported between them.”

The energy that is generated by people’s footsteps is not being stored, but rather just displayed on a monitor for Wang and his team to track its progress. Wang said that it is possible to harness the energy produced by each footfall.

“[The panels] are not really powering anything at this point,” Wang said. “Basically, we just have the measurement system and the display to show how much power is being produced from each panel of our floor.”

To actually gather the power that is generated from the pressure of footsteps, an electric circuit would need to be built and attached to the floor. Once someone is done stepping on the floor, the layers inside the panels separate, releasing electrons into the circuit that can be harvested for electric power, according to Wang.

The renewable energy project—partially funded by the Grainger Institute—is the first of its kind on the UW-Madison campus, according to Wang. The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation assisted the team in obtaining a patent, and the panel was placed in Union South to receive the “highest concentration of foot traffic.”

Leah Johnson, who serves as the sustainability chair for Associated Students of Madison, said she supports the panel prototype. According to Johnson, if the university reduces its energy consumption as a whole, it would have “less energy that we would have to substitute with renewable energy.”

“I think this is a great idea,” Johnson said. “This project is going to give us less energy but still power things that we need. It is an example of how we can use less energy and still get something out of it.”

The energy harvesting floor—which will be in use for another two months—has been stepped on approximately 73,500 times and produced just over 950 joules of energy since it was installed earlier this month.

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