Student Brain Power Turns Exercise Into Electricity

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An elliptical at Drexel University's athletic facility powers an electric sign. i
Courtesy Drexel University Office of Student Life and Administrative Services
An elliptical at Drexel University's athletic facility powers an electric sign.
Courtesy Drexel University Office of Student Life and Administrative Services

If only all the speed and strength of youth could be channeled into power. Turns out, it can. Some colleges and universities have started converting energy from exercise equipment into electricity.

One of those schools is Drexel University in Philadelphia, where student power runs straight into their buildings' power grids. Dan Simmons, director of recreation at Drexel, says a typical 30-minute workout on a treadmill can generate enough energy to hold a light bulb for 2.5 hours.

A company called ReRev has retrofitted cardio elliptical machines in a portion of the university's gym to generate electricity for that area. The energy can be stored, so it's not necessary for someone to pedal a stationary bicycle to keep the lights on.

Simmons says the students presented the idea to the athletic department when the facility was under construction.

"Drexel is a very entrepreneurial university, and we're open to the students' ideas," he says. "And they're the ones who take a lot of pride in it that it exists here."

But is it just a gimmick?

"There's definitely a part of this that's for awareness — to bring the awareness factor to people of what's possible," he says. "But it does work. We do generate power and are able to store it, and it's proven."

The operation isn't saving the university money at this point, Simmons says. But he says the potential exists — if more power was being generated.

"Picture if every piece of equipment we were using, we were harnessing that energy, from the rowing machines to the treadmills to the exercise bikes. Three thousand people a day exercise in our facility, and right now, we're only harnessing the power of a small amount," Simmons says.

And, for the time being, there's still no way to generate energy from gym-goers who only take advantage of the steam baths.

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