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The company that's creating renewable energy by burning calories

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With the renewable energy industry booming, new methods of generating power are being announced every day. Some developments come in the form of massive projects, developed by leading energy scientists and built by specialist engineers over years to generate massive amounts of power. And some come from more unusual sources.

Taiwanese gym equipment manufacturer SportsArt have created a full range of exercise machines that generate electricity from people’s workouts. 

SportsArt treadmills convert energy from your workout into electricity that can be used to power appliances
(Image via SportsArt)

“Think of a hamster wheel,” said chief technology officer Ruben Mejia. “You’re the hamster and the treadmill is the wheel. As soon as you start turning that wheel, we’ve got a generator inside that starts producing power.”

SportsArt unveiled the third generation of their “Eco-Powr” power-generating treadmills, ellipticals and cycles at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. 

Each machine can feed electricity back into the building through an electrical socket. The treadmill produces a maximum output of 200 watts an hour, while the bikes and elliptical trainers can generate up to 250 watts. 

The machine is fully powered by the human body, with a micro-inverter converting the energy into electricity
(Image via SportsArt)

The equipment doesn’t use up any electricity themselves, the way that others do. Conventional treadmills spin the belt using electric motors and feature an electronic display. The SportsArt treadmill has no motor at all. Instead it’s set at a 4 degree angle, so that gravity will pull the belt backwards once a brake is released.

The belt is made up of horizontal slats on ball bearings, allowing it to slip smoothly with little friction. A micro-inverter gathers the energy captured by rollers as the belt moves and converts it in to electricity. 

The electricity goes back in to the socket where it can flow through other appliances. Currently it can’t flow onto the grid, but it can power other devices in the room. 

The brand claim that continual use of the equipment in gyms can save up to $900 (£690) a year compared with ordinary equipment (factoring in the costs saved from the electricity used by normal gym equipment).

SportsArt's range includes treadmills, cycling machines and elliptical machines
(Image via SportsArt)

They also highlight the benefits of pushing people to work out harder, knowing that they’re contributing energy instead of just burning it away. 

Psychology and behavioural economics professor Dan Ariely of Duke University explained that motivation can come from “just giving people a sense that they are burning energy and seeing some results.”

Paul Crane, owner of the sustainable gym Eco-Gym in Brighton, has installed SportsArt’s Eco-Powr equipment in his facility and reduced member fees based on how much power users generate. He claims the effect on his gym members means they “definitely feel motivated and committed to improving their own health and that of the planet.”

“There’s a lot of gyms that are going green and they’re going green in a variety of ways, whether it’s like zero waste or being a net zero property,” said Mejia.

SportsArt's cycling and elliptical machines can generate up to 250 Watts of electricity. Treadmills can generate up to 200 Watts
(Image via SportsArt)

Despite the brand’s success in eco-gyms, it’s unlikely to make a dent in the wider market in its current form. 

At 200 watts, the maximum treadmill workout for a full hour would only save the user around 2.4 US cents (1.8 UK pence). An average person lightly jogging for 20 minutes could power a 60 watt lightbulb for just long enough to light the room while they’re working out. 

Though the savings still exist - particularly for gyms who can replace their electric-powered machines - units cost around $10,000 each. 

Whether gyms are willing to pay five times the price of a conventional treadmill will depend on the value they put on marketing themselves as “green”. But until SportsArt can make the equipment more affordable, or the energy return more viable, you may not be converting calories in to usable power just yet.

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The company that's creating renewable energy by burning calories - Time to read 4 min
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