You Can Now ‘Go Green’ While Exercising on Yale Gym’s Machines
As the “green”-conscious know, using less energy and biking and walking more are two ways to help fight climate change. But what if you could combine the two and actually use the energy created through exercise to produce a cleaner form of electricity?
That’s exactly what Hür Köser is aiming to do with a new system that allows gym-goers to charge their iPhones, iPods, BlackBerries and other portable devices through the energy created by their workouts.
Working with Yale’s Athletics Department and Office of Sustainability, Köser and his students installed the system on 40 compatible exercise machines at the Payne Whitney Gymnasium last spring.
Most stationary exercise machines — including elliptical trainers, treadmills, bicycles and rowing machines — are already equipped with alternators that generate electricity from the user’s motion to power their display panels, notes Köser. But the panels only need about 10% of the energy generated; the other 90% is wasted and eventually dissipates as heat. That wasted energy, he explains, is more than enough to charge the batteries on a number of small electronic devices.
“It’s about making people aware of their energy choices,” says Köser, associate professor of electrical engineering. “Educating exercisers about this … is a first step in achieving a more energy-aware society.”
Köser points out that most people charge their portable electronics overnight. But even after fully charging the device, the adaptors continue to draw and waste power. If every one of the 250 million cell phone users in the United States charged their phones for one hour each day through exercise, rather than by plugging them into traditional power outlets, the energy savings would total upwards of 520 megawatts — the equivalent amount produced by several dozen coal-burning power plants, he says.
While the new system has only been installed on 40 machines so far, Köser believes the potential for substantial energy savings is tremendous.
“These are drops of energy, but little by little, it adds up to a lake,” he says.
The idea began as the senior project of former engineering student Henrique Rocha, who was interested in ways to reduce the demand on the energy grid. Rocha worked with Köser to design and build the devices from scratch. Köser believes the program is unique among university gyms.
The engineer wants to expand the project so that eventually the exercise machines could be used to power the light fixtures, televisions and other utilities in the gym, and possibly even develop a way to store the excess energy so it can be put back into the local power grid.
Köser also hopes the idea will catch on and spread to other gyms, and plans to create a website with all of the design details so that engineers at other institutions can replicate the system.
In the meantime, he has a challenge for gym-goers across campus: “I would encourage regular exercisers to try the system and see how long they can go without ever plugging in their mobile electronic device.”
— By Suzanne Taylor Muzzin