Gym Workouts Churn Out Energy for Colleges

Two colleges vie for first place in the Kilowatt Throwdown, an energy competition powered by human exercise on high-tech equipment.

by / February 26, 2013 0
Students at Tennessee Tech work out on equipment that sends their kinetic energy through an inverter to convert it into electric energy. | Photo by Benjamin Corda

Two colleges are competing in a Kilowatt Throwdown to see which one converts the most kinetic energy from workouts into electrical energy.

Tennessee Tech University and Chapman University started a monthlong competition on Feb. 15 to show their campus communities how small choices impact their world, said Abbey Jaffe, health promotions coordinator at Tennessee Tech.

"Putting that competition factor into it does help spread the word, but more I'm just looking to educate people about the fact that they can give back and that there are things they can do in their everyday lives that can affect the world around them," Jaffe said.

One of those everyday activities is working out at the gym. In the past seven months, both universities installed Green System equipment from SportsArt Fitness and a wireless communication platform called ECOFIT Networks that attaches to the equipment.

Tennessee Tech already had the SportsArt equipment when a green committee on campus provided $50,000 to retrofit one fitness center room and add the wireless communication technology.

Chapman University had a small fitness center in one of the dorms that no one wanted to use because it was old and dingy, said Mackenzie Crigger, energy conservation and sustainability manager at the private university in California. The university spent about $125,000 to basically gut the room, put in SportsArt and ECOFIT equipment, retrofit some weight equipment, install a floating floor made out of recycled rubber and make other upgrades.

Since September, 84,000 watt hours have been converted from kinetic energy through this project at Chapman, Crigger said. To put this number in perspective, that energy could power 12 homes for a year.

Here's how the energy-conversion process works. Let's say a student exercises on an elliptical trainer. The kinetic energy generated from this process flows through an inverter, which converts it to electricity and sends it to the building's power grid. Chapman University tracks this process by looking at the inverter as well as a sub-metering system, Crigger explained.

In the 11 days since the throwdown started, Chapman has converted close to 8.5 or 9 kilowatt hours, while Tennessee Tech is near 11 kilowatt hours, according to ECOFIT Networks. Because Tennessee Tech has 17 pieces of equipment to Chapman's 10, the contest is handicapped by a simple multiplier to take that difference into account.

Along with the two-campus competition, students and staff continuously compete within their own campus. ECOFIT Networks has an app, a member website and a member card that individuals use to track the kilowatt hours that are converted from their workouts. And each university installed two TVs so that students could see the top 30-minute workouts and top power leaders of the month.

"That has proved just to be such a motivator for students," Crigger said. "They're like, 'I want to win, I want to be No. 1.'"

The winning students earn rewards such as gift cards through ECOFIT, while the top university wins a $7,000 treadmill from SportsArt Fitness. But more importantly, it's helping universities educate students about energy conservation.

"This is something that you do every day, and there's a greener way to do it, there's a more responsible way to do it, and you're not having to sacrifice anything," Crigger said. "You're getting better equipment, you're getting a better product."

Tanya Roscorla Former Managing Editor

Tanya Roscorla covered ed tech from 2009-2017.