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Soon, the phrase ‘Power Walk’ will take on a whole new meaning as scientists have tapped into an unexpected source to generate electricity.

They use a combination of footsteps, wooden flooring, and silicone to generate enough electrical power to light up LED bulbs and small electronics.

The energy-harvesting device, known as a nanogenerator, uses wood with a combination of embedded nano-crystals and a silicone coating. The wood pieces become electronically charged due to contact and separation when stepped on. This phenomenon happens when electrons transfer from one object to another and is known as the triboelectric effect.

Materials that lose electrons are known as tribo-positive, and those which gain electrons are known as tribo-negative.

Senior study author Guido Panzarasa, a group leader in the professorship of wood materials science located at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich and the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology Dübendorf, wood is a tribo-neutral material.

According to Panzarasa, the challenge lay in making wood able to attract and lose electrons. “The functionalization approach is quite simple, and it can be scalable on an industrial level,” he added, calling it “a matter of engineering.”

The research, with its results that the prototype lit up the lightbulbs when an adult human walked upon it was published in the journal Matter.

After experimenting with different types of wood, researchers found that radially cut spruce wood – commonly used for construction in Europe – was capable of generating 80 times more electricity than natural wood.

The next idea that Panzarasa and his team have is optimizing the nanogenerator using chemical coatings, which are both more eco-friendly and easier to implement. The researcher added that the ultimate goal was to “enable wood with new properties for future sustainable smart buildings.”

The nanogenerator is seen as efficient, sustainable, and scalable, while it also could help mitigate climate change by sequestering CO2 from the environment throughout the wood’s lifespan.

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