According to the Christian Science Monitor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology architecture students James Graham and Thaddeus Jusczyk hope to use people’s footsteps as an energy source to generate what they are calling “piezoelectricity.”

The students’ conceptual design of a floor with moving blocks won an award this summer from the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction in Zurich, Switzerland. Graham and Jusczyk estimate that by using the floor, 28,527 footsteps could power a train for one second, while 84,162,203 footsteps could launch a space shuttle.

In Chicago, sustainable designer Elizabeth Redmond has built POWERLeap, a flooring system featuring four glass tiles whose LED light turns on when people walk on it. Redmond recently won a $10,000 grant from Mohawk Industries to redesign POWERLeap and is considering the idea of working with Graham and Jusczyk.

Meanwhile, engineering professor Henry Sodano at Arizona State University in Tempe has created a backpack that powers appliances such as mobile phones and can recharge a battery. The piezoelectric straps can harness power from the bag’s movements as people use them, but must be attached to a 100-pound load to work optimally. Sodano said the device was originally intended for use by the military.

At a normal rate of walking, the stress on the straps can generate 45.6 milliwatts, just shy of what is needed to power an iPod nano MP3 player, but more than enough to keep a Motorola Razr mobile phone charged.   EC