Exercise Machines May Supply Power for RSF

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The UC Berkeley Recreational Sports Facility lets students run, jump and pedal away the pounds, but as early as spring 2010, visitors may also contribute to the facility's electrical needs.

The RSF is currently in collaboration with the campus's department of mechanical engineering to develop a technology that will allow patrons to generate energy while they work out.

The project would involve retrofitting 28 elliptical machines to channel "people power" into the facility's electrical grid, according to UC Berkeley junior Maha Haji and graduate student Kimberly Lau, both in the mechanical engineering department.

Considered among the most popular pieces of cardio equipment at the facility, ellipticals yield a low-impact exercise that simulates the motion of walking or running, according to an abstract compiled by Lau and Alice Agogino, a professor of mechanical engineering.

According to Haji and Lau, when an individual exercises on an elliptical machine, he or she creates resistance due to a process involving resistor coils, which generates energy dissipated as heat.

Haji said she plans to replace the coils with an inverter that will provide resistance while converting the runner's energy output into an alternating current, which is then fed back into the RSF's electrical grid.

According to the abstract, a person can generate approximately 100 watts while working out. The retrofitted machines are predicted to generate about 11,246 kilowatts per year, enough to power a small house.

Although the additions will compose less than 1 percent of the RSF's total energy needs, officials are optimistic that the project could make a difference.

"It's a great project, and we're fully supportive," said Eric Craypo, director of communications for Recreational Sports. "We're always looking for new ways to save energy."

The project is estimated to cost at least $10,000, the majority of which Haji said may be covered by grants.

Due to the high price tag and the fact that it would take 15 years to recover the initial investment, RSF officials are hesitant to commit to the project before supplemental funding is secured.

"Until we know how much this will cost, we couldn't commit to anything," Craypo said.

Oregon State University has a similar system of energy generation. According to Tom Kirch, the university's director of recreational sports, the renovated machines the university uses have been so popular with students that more machines have been purchased to meet increased demand.

"Students would exercise just as an incentive to generate energy," he said.

Even with the lack of available funds, Haji and Lau said they are sure the project will acquire the necessary funding.

"I feel like this installation would make people realize that even one person can make a difference in our current environmental situation," Haji said.


Contact Mollie Bloudoff-Indelicato at [email protected]

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