Turning Sweat Into Electricity: Two Schools Compete for Power

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Tennessee Tech University and Chapman University in California are duking it out, and we're not talking about school rankings. The Universities are going head to head to see who can produce the most electricity in one month. How? They're heading to the gym to work up a sweat on new fitness equipment that converts energy from exercise into electric power.

Benjamin Corda

What's The Deal?

The kilowatt battle requires some seriously green gyms. Luckily, both Tennessee Tech and Chapman are home to state-of-the-art fitness facilities that feature Green System cardio machines manufactured by SportsArt (a company that makes tons of fitness equipment, some of which is energy efficient). The system consists of a pod of cardio machines attached to an inverter that channels human energy from exercise and feeds it back into the power grid as useable power. Students, staff, and faculty are encouraged to participate in the month-long sweat-fest, which started on February 15.

The Green System Inverter converts about 75 percent of energy generated by exercisers to usable power (how awesome is that?). Up to ten pieces of SportsArt equipment - including ellipticals, and stationary bikes - can be linked to one Green System Inverter, which is connected to each gym's electrical system. As users glide on the elliptical tracks or pump the bikes' pedals, the energy they produce is harnessed and transferred to the power grid to cut down on overall power consumption at each gym. When ten machines are hooked up and running, they can produce roughly 2,000 watts of energy per hour - about a sixth of the power an average American uses in an hour.

To keep track of energy outputs, each machine is outfitted with an EcoFit system, which logs users' wattage over time. Gym-goers must purchase an EcoFit data card in order to track their own individual electricity production. The card also allows users to compare their points with other exercisers' for a little friendly competition.

So what's in it for the gym rats? Aside from getting their fit on and helping out Mother Nature, the winning school will also receive a $7,000 SportsArt treadmill, as well as undisclosed awards from Best Buy and Footlocker.

Is It Legit?

Hell yeah. We pump our legs day in and day out on gym equipment, sweat up a storm, and burn off tons of energy - but unfortunately, a gym sesh generally utilizes outside power from an electrical source. Let's face it: All those machines aren't exactly energy-efficient. The average treadmill, for instance, uses the same amount of energy it takes to power 50 compact fluorescent light bulbs for one hour, and gym equipment can eat up even more energy as it ages.

While this all sounds like a total buzzkill, this competition is a good start in the push for more environmentally friendly gyms. Events like this may increase the demand for energy-efficient gym equipment, and the self-powered machines,as well as the contest, may urge the universities' students to hit the gym a little more this month - and, hopefully, the next.

What do you think of gyms going eco-friendly? Would you hit the gym more often if you knew you could burn energy and produce it simultaneously? Let us know in the comment section below or tweet the author @nicmcdermott.