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Exercisers to help power fitness center

Ambler Center to harness kinetic energy from elliptical machines

This August, as incoming KU freshman flock to Lawrence for Hawk Week, they will find a revolutionary way to live a healthy and green lifestyle.

The David A. Ambler Student Recreation Fitness Center is retrofitting 15 elliptical machines with ReRev devices made by Florida-based SunQuest energy that draw on kinetic energy created by people’s workouts and reroute that energy back into the building’s electric grid — pushing back against electricity supplied by conventional carbon-based power supplies.

“We already have the equipment — they are Precor elliptical fitness machines that we’ve had on our floor since we opened the facility,” said Mary Chappell, director of KU Recreation Services. “We’re just going to be using a system that will hook into that and will harness the kinetic energy that’s produced by human beings when they get on the ellipticals and do their thing on the fitness floor.”

According to the makers of ReRev, a typical 30-minute workout produces enough clean energy to power a laptop for an hour, a TV for 15 minutes or a compact fluorescent light bulb for two hours and 30 minutes. But the energy generated will be used exclusively in the center, cutting carbon emissions.

The ReRev devices will convert the energy created on the elliptical devices — which usually goes wasted as heat — from DC power into 240/208 Volt 60 Hertz AC inside a control box mounted near the exercise machines. Users will see displayed in real time the energy their workouts contribute to the building. Additionally, the reductions in heat will improve air quality and cut costs of cooling the facility.

“It all came about as a student project,” said Chappell. “This idea came to me from a student named Andrew Stanley, and he’s very involved in environmentally conscious efforts. He asked, ‘Have you heard about harnessing human kinetic energy?’ Of course that piqued our interest. We immediately did a conference call with him and the ReRev guys.”

Soon, leaders from the center were hearing success stories about ReRev’s implementation at the universities of Florida, Oregon, Portland and Nebraska.

“I think it’s really cool and exciting for KU,” said Stanley, a student of art from Overland Park who earned a bachelor’s in Latin American studies from KU in spring 2009. “Mary Chappell’s support for ReRev was instrumental in bringing the technology to the university. I’m the student who paired up KU with SunQuest and rallied support from the students and university governing bodies that were ultimately responsible for funding the project. I think it’s something great that people should become excited and inspired about.”

The Student Environmental Board is funding the entire $15,000 project.

Once retrofitted to generate electricity, the project’s backers expect an increase in the Precor machines’ popularity, saying that users will be more motivated in their workouts and more awake to the energy running the world around us.

“We’re now capturing energy that was otherwise wasted into the space,” said Glen Johansen, vice president of sales at SunQuest. “It connects the user with the production and raises awareness. It makes you cognizant of going in and out of rooms and what it takes to power a light bulb — and makes you appreciate what it takes to drive that energy.”

Raising environmental consciousness quickly has become a key priority at the center, where personal health and environmental health are seen as interconnected.

“We’ve made sustainability one of our primary goals,” said Chappell. “We’re trying to put together a play and work environment that is sustainable. It’s the right thing to do. I think that the students — as well as staff and faculty — really are eco-conscious. It started with our recycling efforts. Now, students will see the rain garden that we have outside that is using rainwater runoff from the roof as an irrigation system. We just put in a bid to get a new electric car, and students will see that because it will be parked out on the plaza. But we’ll get it to have access around campus and cut our cost of gasoline. In everything we do, we’re thinking about sustainability and energy — we’ve got to be here a lot longer and leave something behind us.”

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