Shoppers’ footsteps could soon be used to power underfloor generators in shops and Tube stations

Underfloor generators powered by pedestrians’ footsteps may soon be installed in shopping centres and railway centres in the UK.

The technology uses the pressure of “heel strike” to compress pads beneath the floor, driving fluid through mini-turbines to generate electricity. This is then stored in batteries and used to power lighting.

Any location with heavy pedestrian traffic could use the technology, which was adapted for underfloor use by London-based firm The Facility from a system of mini-generators built into soldiers’ boots tested by the US army.

Engineers have modelled the system at Victoria Underground station in central London, which sees 34,000 travellers every hour. They calculate that the energy from their footsteps could power 6,500 lightbulbs.

David Webb, structural engineer at consultant Scott Wilson, which is talking to Network Rail and various retail firms about installing the devices, told the Guardian: “It’s just picking up on the fact that all structures move a bit. This technology says, okay, we can do something useful with that energy.”

The technology could also be installed beneath railway lines and on road bridges to gather energy from the vibrations caused by passing trains and cars. Such a system was successfully trialled last year at a bridge in the Midlands, where a flood detector was powered by energy created by movement caused by trains passing above.

Plans are afoot to use the new heel-strike technology at Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth, where energy from the footsteps of visitors to the 170m-high viewing platform will be gathered as they ascend the stairs.