Elliptical machines generating energy at rec center

Bemidji State University’s Gillett Recreation-Fitness Center has begun using its patrons to generate electricity through Renewable Energy Revolution devices installed on seven of the center’s nine elliptical machines.

The Renewable Energy Revolution system (ReRev) modifies cardio equipment so heat produced by its use is rerouted into a central processing unit. According to the manufacturer, the device converts human power to utility-grade electricity.

“Each retrofit has a controller box which feeds back through a processor and into a central-grid tied inverter, tapping directly into the building’s electrical system and creating free, maintenance-free electricity,” the company says. It also claims an elliptical machine in regular use at a gym using ReRev technology can generate one kilowatt-hour of electricity every two days – enough energy to power a laptop for 24 hours or use a vaccum cleaner for 45 minutes.

According to Duane Biehn, associate director of campus recreation at Bemidji State, implementing the ReRev system was a student-led initiative that took two years of planning with the Department of Campus Recreation and Bemidji State’s Sustainability Office.

The initial idea for the project came after students enrolled in a People in the Environment course approached Biehn to discuss projects that might be done to fulfill a class requirement.

“It was then we began discussions about ReRev, as I recently had the opportunity to try it at a conference,” Biehn said. “From there, over the next few semesters, additional students from the People in the Environment class continued with the project, reviewed it more in depth, and investigated the costs, practicality and potential funding sources.”

As discussion continued, interest in the project grew across campus. BSU’s Student Senate, Sustainability Office, and rec center became increasingly involved in developing the funding plan and logistics for the project.

“There are a lot of big ideas out there,” says Erika Bailey-Johnson, Sustainability Coordinator at Bemidi State. “To be able to actually make them happen is the role that the Sustainability Office plays. And we do pretty well.

“We usually get contacted when groups hit road blocks. This group kept working, and when they felt they had reached a point where they were ready to purchase or take the next step of the project, that’s when we really got heavily involved.”

Bailey-Johnson directed the students to the Student Senate to propose getting support for the project through the university’s Green Fee – a $5-per-semester student fee which exists to support sustainable energy or green projects on campus. The group was able to obtain $8,000 in funding for the project from the Green Fee.

The central processing unit publicly displays the amount of energy produced by the elliptical machines, giving students and users the opportunity to visualize how much energy they are saving. Biehn and Bailey-Johnson both are confident that, over time, Bemidji State will see positive results from installing a ReRev system on campus in a variety of ways.

“ReRev encourages users to increase their energy production by inputting the highest resistance they can operate on the elliptical,” Biehn says. He also is working with manufacturers to determine ways to mine and process information from the ReRev monitors as usage of the elliptical machines increases during the school year.

“This is a great educational tool,” Bailey-Johnson said. “It’s taken something that was using energy and now it’s actually creating energy, so in my mind that’s such a benefit for the campus.”