TX State home to world's largest human power plant

December 27, 2009 4:48:01 PM PST
Everything has to be bigger in Texas. That's why it's fitting that Texas State University is now home to the world's largest human power plant. The university has unveiled equipment at the Student Recreation Center that will generate electricity when students use it for exercise. The equipment, produced by a Florida company called ReRev, was placed on 30 elliptical machines that are now feeding electricity back into the campus power grid.

A number of other universities have installed the system, but Texas State's rec center is using more ReRev machines than any other gym, making it the top producer of human power in the world.

"With 30 machines, we have more than anyone else in the world, and we're the first in Texas" to install the system, said Glenn Hanley, the director of campus recreation.

Hanley said each elliptical marked with a green balloon has a device that captures kinetic energy generated by the user. It's then converted into direct current and sent to a gray box on the wall of the gym, which converts the energy into alternating current the kind that runs in U.S. electrical outlets and is used to power the devices in our homes.

A typical 30-minute workout on the elliptical produces 50 watt-hours of electricity enough to power a light bulb for 21/2 hours and a desktop computer for 30 minutes.

The entire system cost about $20,000 to install, Hanley said, and was paid for by Texas State's environmental service committee and the Department of Campus Recreation with support from the Associated Student Government.

The system could pay for itself in about seven or eight years, Hanley said.

But Blair Hartley, a recreation management graduate student in charge of the project, said powering the university grid isn't really the point. It's trying to make students more aware of how much power it takes to run their devices and to encourage them to use less electricity when they can.

"It's more about changing the mind-set of the 30,000-plus students on campus," Hartley said. "When you realize, 'I just worked out for 30 minutes, and it's only enough to power a light bulb for about two hours,' it gives you some perspective."

If you left the lights on in your dorm room for three hours, it would take about a week's worth of regular workouts to recoup that, Hartley said.

Chris Covo, Texas State's student body president, said he's looking forward to working out on the elliptical machines when finals are over.

"Anything and everything we can do to promote the university is great, especially when it has to do with sustainability," Covo said.


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