Could our shoes be the new solar?

In the not-so-distant future, lacing up your running shoes and going for a jog will not only burn a little energy but produce some too. Mechanical engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison have come up with a way to harness the energy produced every time our feet strike the ground and convert it to electric power. Their eventual goal is to refine the technology so that it will fit into the sole of a shoe, rendering our footwear an on-the-go power-generating device.   

Human power is nothing new but it’s experiencing a renaissance as engineers and the mechanically inclined search for the ultimate form of renewable energy. And what could be a more renewable source than the nearly seven billion of us, who writer Bruce Grierson has called “highly efficient, nonpolluting short-stroke engines”? Previous attempts to make energy-harvesting shoes, according to an article about the discovery in Technology Review magazine, have failed to generate enough power to make them useful.

The breakthrough, by mechanical engineer Tom Krupenkin and his team, relies on the fact that the sole of a shoe compresses a little bit with each step we take, and this mechanical energy, which is usually lost as heat, can be converted into power. What’s been missing is a suitable mechanical-to-electric energy converter. So the team has created a new kind of device that uses microscopic liquid droplets sandwiched between nanometer-sized thin films.

The next challenge is to scale up the technology to produce enough power to run mobile devices, yet keep it small enough to fit inside a shoe. The researchers have founded a company, InStep NanoPower, to develop a prototype, but it could be years before they hit the streets and redefine what it means to power walk.

via Technology Review

Image: Sunface13

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