Hey! A quick background on me — I just completed grade 9 and will spend the rest of my high school career at Jean Augustine SS in Brampton, ON.
I have a problem.
With around 1000 people constantly using the school almost every weekday for 10 months, Jean Augustine SS has an extremely high carbon footprint. In fact, our school released 275 079Kg of greenhouse gas emissions in just the 2020–21 school year! As a place where the youth grows, learns and becomes the future of the world, schools should be at the forefront of climate innovation, especially with something as high impact as energy usage. A large potential solution to this is the use of piezoelectricity in schools to lower the use of non-renewable energy.
Piezoelectricity is the generation of an electric charge when mechanical energy is applied to certain materials. You can check my article about it here. Essentially, hemihedral or piezoelectric crystals have an atom structure where they are neutral but when they change shape, they gain electrical polarization. This can be harnessed and used as electricity.
Anywhere there is energy, it can be harnessed — wind, solar, oil, etc. Think about where energy is wasted most. That is, where energy is exerted but no electricity is generated from it. Think footsteps, blinking, cars running over roads, typing, the list goes on. One thing that these all have in common is that they are mechanical energy.
In this proposed solution, I will be showing how the mechanical energy exerted on the floors of my school can be harnessed. PZT or lead zirconate titanate will be installed beneath the floors all over the school. The energy from people walking and things moving over the floors will be converted into electrical energy which will power the school. Now, if you’ve seen some of the other things I’ve written I have gone over the problems with PZT — it’s toxic, the production is energy-consuming, etc. and how there is a solution. The fact is, nanocellulose is simply not a reality right now for piezo and I’m finding a solution to the problem that can be implemented now.
The infrastructure is pretty simple. First, let’s look at the actual tiles. There would be a solid layer of conductive metal along the floors — ideally aluminium. It’s conductive, cheap, easy to produce, and does the job. Above that, there would be small tiles of PZT, in 12” x 12” squares. On top of this, there would be a thin layer of springs made of aluminium. Finally, another layer of aluminium would be placed, this time also cut into 12” x 12” squares. This creates the scope for mechanical energy like walking, carts running over, and more to actually be converted to electricity!
Between each square, copper wires would be running connecting to both layers of aluminium, capturing this electric charge. The wires would lead to a central power station, similar to one that would currently be used to power the school. Here’s where we encounter a problem. Piezoelectric power is AC or alternating current. It can’t be stored. The simple solution to this is to have a constant running AC motor to convert this energy to DC. Using this technique, the station would store the power. The station would be wired to all loads around the school like lights, computers and more.
My school spans around 210 000 square feet. 2 layers of 40 gauge aluminium spanning the floors of the school, costing $3.50CAD per square foot adds up to $735000. The PZT costs about $18 per square foot which adds up to $3780000. The springs, wiring and power station costs are minimal since a lot of this infrastructure is already implemented. With labour and other miscellaneous costs, the total cost of this solution would be around $5 Million CAD.
In most schools, energy consumption accounts for 74% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In this solution, the tiles will be essentially the only source of energy for the school, bringing this number down to 0. That means the school’s greenhouse gas emissions can drop to only 26% of its original amount. This would be around 71520Kg of emissions per year from my school.
Implementing piezoelectric floor tiles all around the school replaces the need for an outside energy source and uses already existing, currently wasted mechanical energy to power the school. It is completely renewable, efficient, easy to use and implement, and overall the perfect solution to help make JASS a carbon-neutral school.
Okay, let’s be real here. Do I think this solution will actually be implemented? No. But I do believe this idea has the potential to open the eyes of people who can work to make a change or people who decide if similar solutions can be implemented.
This is my call to people like the superintendent of PDSB, Jamie Robertson. My call to everyone on the board working to make schools sustainable is that change needs to be made.
Change that is possible with technologies like piezoelectricity and innovators in these schools like me. To check out more of my work, click here.