If you’re seeking to engage the general population in thinking about renewable energy, you may have an uphill battle. However, one company has figured out a way not only to engage people, but to make them generate renewable energy. No, it’s not slave labor or using stationary bikes, it’s getting them to dance, jump, stomp, exercise, and well, just walk. Which covers just about most human physical activity. The secret? It may not sound exciting, but it’s floors. Piezo-electric floors, to be precise.
For those not familiar with piezoelectric principles, it’s the ability to harvest kinetic movement — such as the force exerted on the floor by people dancing or walking – and convert it to electrical energy. Energy Floors, based in Rotterdam, has taken this principle to heart and brought it to dance clubs, public events and corporate showcases to demonstrate how everyday activity can generate renewable energy and assist in reducing our carbon footprint.
The company was started when Delft and Eindhoven University of Technology investigated various energy harvesting options and developed a piezo-based electromechanical system that transforms small vertical movements into a rotating movement that drives a generator.
The company’s energy floor modules flex slightly when stepped on. Inside each module is an electromechanical system, which transforms the small vertical movement produced by dancing or walking people into a rotating movement that drives a generator (see the video). Each floor module of 75x75x20 cm can produce up to 35 watts of sustained output, between 5-20 Watts per person.
Video courtesy of Energy Floors: skip to the 45 second mark for the technical explainer.
In the past few years the company continued to improve its technology, resulting in what they claim is the world’s most efficient energy converting tile. Together with partners Rinnic/Vaude Engineering and AEGROUP the firm produces energy floor modules that resist extreme weather and have a high life expectancy, making them appropriate for most kinds of venues. The company worked with designers to create an exciting “tile style” with a glassy look and embedded LED lights.
But those are just the tiles. On top of the physical product, the company needed to develop a microgrid and software to manage and export the energy. Its Energy Floors Smart Grid is used for intelligent power management and diagnostics. Not only does it manage the energy generated by the floors, but in order to create a self-sustaining energy system, the microgrid can accept power from other renewable sources including wind and solar.
Okay, so let’s cut to the fun part: dancing and sports. Of course, you can’t be part of the millennial music and dance world without being at Coachella. So this year Energy Floors leveraged the excitement around their floors and partnered with Heineken (of course) to provide a sustainable dance floor at the Heineken pavilion at Coachella. Millennials rocked out to George Clinton, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, TWRK, and Chris Lake while generating enough power to keep them cool with gusts of air conditioning.
The company being in Europe, you can’t avoid soccer games with highly enthused (read: rowdy) fans. Why not harness the physical enthusiasm and help power the stadium? Energy floors conducted a hometown demonstration at DeKuip soccer stadium where they installed the Sustainable Floor at the stadium entrance and in front of the VIP section inside. The floors captured the energy from crowds walking in and from the stomping in that section of the stands. The energy generated from the two small areas of the stadium was 50,000 joules or about 14 watt-hours. Note to Americans: the company was also at Superbowl 50 with a dance floor-powered selfie station.
The good news is that such energy harvesting opportunities are all around us. The bad news is that so much of our movement (and the energy we exert in moving) is uncaptured. For example, we could be powering our electronic devices with repeat movements that we do everyday: opening or closing doors, cabinets or drawers in our buildings, pressing buttons and light switches, or even leaning with our elbows on our desks to write. Taking it a step further, with the right network of sensors we could harvest the vibrations of heavy vehicles from bridge traffic, or thousands of people passing through subway turnstiles.
Energy Floors installation at the DeKuip soccer stadium in Rotterdam. Floors were installed at the main entrance and in front of the Maastribune section, generating 50,000 joules.