Wooden flooring that powers the house

Wooden flooring capable of converting static charge into electricity. Prepare to be shocked...
02 September 2021

Interview with 

Guido Panzarasa, Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich and Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) Dübendorf




Researchers from Switzerland are jumping on their nanogenerator, for joy. The team from Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) Zürich and Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) Dübendorf designed an A4 sized prototype of wooden flooring capable of powering small electronics and LED light bulbs. Group leader Guido Panzarasa starts us off with his vision for the nanogenerator… 

Harry - Do you hear that? Yeah, that's the sound of my floorboards creaking, um, which is an ominous sign in this case. It's because the boiler leaked a little while ago and it's bloated the floorboards right up. It's not a good sound, but what happens if that sound instead could correlate with something nice, let's say savings. What happens if your floor, when walked upon could actually produce energy? Well, it could, it's called triboelectricity. Guido Panzarasa is here to explain to me exactly what that is.

Guido - From a physical point of view, the phenomenon is the same that produces a static electricity. The same kind of effect that happens when you pat a cat backwards. That's because when the 2 disimilar materials are put in contact and then separated electrons accumulate on one material, which generates an electric field, which in turn produces an electrical current. These currents can be collected and used for practical purposes.

Harry - Triboelectric materials are materials that are able to build this static energy. Is wood a good. Tribo electric material?

Guido - No. Wood is quiet terrible as a triboelectric material. It means that wood doesn't have a strong tendency, neither to attract or to lose electrical charges. Wood needs to be treated. The approach was to take advantage of the structure typical of wood.

Harry - In essence, Guido took two sheets of wood and laid them on top of one another. One of these planks was soaked in a common silicon that's known for soaking up electrons whilst nanocrystals that prefer to lose electrons were grown in the other. When the two materials are separated or press firmly together, they're in a state of equilibrium. They don't produce an electric charge. It's only when they rub against each other. It's also worth mentioning that these materials are sourced sustainably in keeping with the theme of wooden flooring. In the team's prototype the small A4 sized plank of flooring was actually able to power LEDs, small electronics, even a household lamp. But, don't be mistaken. This isn't a substitute for other renewable energy sources, but it could improve energy efficiency around the house. There's only one question left to ask, are these smart houses going to continuously cause me static shocks?

Guido - Oh no, no, no. The electricity generation mechanism will be hidden inside of the wood flooring itself. There will be absolutely no risk of getting electrocuted while walking on the triboelectric wooden floor.


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