University turns exercise into electricity

Tags: energy management

What if you could harness some of the energy generated by Furman University students exercising in the Herman W. Lay Physical Activities Center (PAC), then convert it into electricity to power the building?

It’s no pipe dream, and the Class of 2010 plans to bring the technology to campus as its senior gift to Furman.

The seniors will raise funds to have 15 Precor elliptical machines in the fitness center at the PAC equipped with devices to feed electricity generated by the gym rats into the campus power grid.

The system will be installed by ReRev, a Florida-based company, which has already installed similar systems at schools such as the University of Florida and Oregon State University. Furman officials expect the initial setup of the system to cost between $15,000 and $20,000.

The official kickoff for the seniors’ fund-raising drive will be the first week of February.

In conjunction with the launch, demonstrations of how ReRev works will be conducted at the University Center and the PAC. A student, faculty or staff member will be able to step onto an elliptical machine equipped with a ReRev kit and power a light bulb to show the electricity being generated.

As for the machines in the PAC, a 30-minute workout on an elliptical cross-trainer typically produces enough electricity to power a light bulb for between two and three hours or a desktop computer for around a half hour.

“If you get on the machine and generate 170 watts of output, it might take 10 to 15 watts to power the machine itself,” said Scott Murr, director of the Furman fitness center. “The remaining effort you’re putting forward isn’t being used in any productive manner. ReRev connects a converter to grab that wattage, then adds it back to the power grid.”

Murr noted that the elliptical machines are among the most popular pieces of equipment in the fitness center. “We’re open 16 hours a day, 100 hours a week, and those machines are used quite regularly. So that can actually be a good return back to the building,” he said.

One side benefit of the ReRev system is that it usually gets people thinking about how much electricity they are using. The idea is to then come up with ways to conserve electricity as part of a commitment to sustainability.

Patrick Bladon, associate director of annual giving at Furman, said the seniors hope to raise between $30,000 and $40,000.

“The senior class agents spearhead it, getting classmates and friends to raise the money,” Bladon added, noting that the fund-raising drive usually continues until the senior picnic at the end of the school year.

“I think it will be neat if we’re the first school in South Carolina to do this,” Murr said of the ReRev project.


The energy produced by the elliptical machines in the Furman fitness center will feed into the building's power grid. 

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