What does a wood-decaying fungus have in common with office aerobics? It’s not a joke. Both can help mitigate global warming when applied to wood flooring. I’ll explain shortly.
Energy Use on the Rise
In my book Weathering Climate Change, I present reliable temperature measurements establishing that global warming is real.1 If warming continues at its present pace, by the end of the century it could produce a degree of climate instability that will bring about the end of civilization as we know it. However, my book does not assume doom and gloom. Rather than calling for draconian economic sacrifices to rein in global warming, I point out that there are more than a dozen different initiatives that, if implemented soon, would substantially boost the world economy and the standard of living for all people while bringing global warming to a halt and restoring climate stability.
The technological revolution of the past 50 years has soared the worldwide demand for energy. More than 90% of this energy still comes from fossil fuel burning, which continues to pump huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases are the primary contributor to global warming.
In spite of the technological advances of the past five decades, buildings account for 40% of worldwide energy consumption and about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.2 In 2019 I wrote an article, “Extending Climate Stability through Wearable Electronics,” explaining how the energy use in buildings could be significantly reduced by having everyone in those buildings wear clothing imbedded with thermoelectric technology that could deliver up to 10°C of adjustable personal cooling or heating for up to eight hours. All occupants of the building would need to wear these thermoelectric clothes and the embedded devices would need to be recharged after 8 hours of use. (This technology would have no bearing on sensitive electronic equipment in the buildings.) In a best-case scenario, where everyone in buildings is always wearing thermoelectric clothes, total energy consumption by humans could be reduced by 10%.3
New Technology Promises Significant Energy Reduction
A 10% reduction would be a huge step forward in avoiding extreme climate instability. A new technology, however, promises an additional significant reduction. This technology takes advantage of a fungal species to enhance—by a factor of 55 times—the piezoelectric output (electric charge) from lumber used to construct buildings.4
Piezoelectricity refers to the electric charge that builds up in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress. For example, certain crystals will produce measurable electricity when their static structure is deformed as a result of an applied external force or pressure. Inverse piezoelectricity occurs when an electric field induces a change in the static structure of a solid possessing piezoelectric properties.
Exploiting the Piezoelectric Effect in Wood
A team of ten material scientists in Switzerland noted that wood cut for building material has a weak piezoelectric effect. Through a series of experiments they were able to greatly enhance the piezoelectricity of the wood by partially removing some of its lignin and hemicellulose.5
Such removal is possible using chemicals such as sodium chlorite, sodium hydroxide, acetic acid, or hydrogen peroxide. However, the team found another method that delivers more predictable results at a lower cost and is fully sustainable and environmentally friendly. That method is to biologically expose the wood to the white rot fungus, Ganoderma applanatum. This fungus is commonly found on the base of trees and has a shelf-like appearance.
The team achieved optimal results when they allowed G. applanatum to reduce the weight of the wood by 45%. At 45% weight loss the wood still possessed adequate structural strength and retained its shape, but now had a high mechanical compressibility (the floor gave a little) that delivered 55 times more piezoelectricity.
The researchers then developed a proof-of-concept application. They interleaved copper foil into wood flooring optimally exposed to G. applanatum. They showed that people walking on the flooring produced mechanical stresses in the wood that generated electricity.
Scaling up the team’s proof of concept, one could have office buildings, warehouses, factories, condominium complexes, malls, supermarkets, and homes where people walking around in those spaces would generate electricity that could be used or stored. Additionally, the generation of electricity could be increased by employers offering aerobics or dance classes during lunch or by encouraging employees to walk to their colleagues’ offices rather than call them. People could improve their health and fitness while simultaneously generating electricity.
In Genesis 1:28–30 and Job 37–39, God exhorts humans to manage Earth and its resources for their benefit and the benefit of all other life. This piezoelectric effect in wood and white rot fungi serves as one of many examples of how God has provided all the resources we need to fulfill his exhortations and to live and thrive on the planet he designed for us.
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Hugh Ross, Weathering Climate Change (Covina, CA: RTB Press, 2020), 23–38.
Philip Farese, “How to Build a Low-Energy Future,” Nature 488 (August 16, 2012): 275–277, doi:10.1038/488275a; Christophe Ballif et al., “Integrated Thinking for Photovoltaics in Buildings,” Nature Energy 3 (June 2018): 438–442, doi:10.1038/s41560-018-0176-2; Bratislav Svetozarevic et al., “Dynamic Photovoltaic Building Envelopes for Adaptive Energy and Comfort Management,” Nature Energy 4 (August 2019): 671–682, doi:10.1038/s41560-019-0424-0.
Sahngki Hong et al., “Wearable Thermoelectrics for Personalized Thermoregulation,” Science Advances 5, no. 5 (May 17, 2019): id. eaaw0536, doi:10.1126/sciadv.aaw0536; Motahareh Mokhtari Yazdi and Mohammad Sheikhzadeh, “Personal Cooling Garments: A Review,” The Journal of the Textile Institute 105, no. 12 (March 17, 2014): 1231–1250, doi:10.1080/00405000.2014.895088.
Jianguo Sun et al., “Enhanced Mechanical Energy Conversion with Selectively Decayed Wood,” Science Advances 7, no. 11 (March 10, 2021): id. eabd9138, doi:10.1126/sciadv.abd9138.
Sun et al., “Enhanced Mechanical Energy.”