Exercise is undeniably important. It is the key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle and body. Now, thanks to the Engineering for a Sustainable World club (ESW), exercise is good for the environment too. ESW designed a bike that won a contest hosted by the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE).
In 2016, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) approached Sophomore ESW co-leader Ben Zook about creating a stationary exercise bike that could pump power into EMU’s electrical grid, “with the ultimate goal of putting the bike into the gym,” said Zook. The project was funded by EarthKeepers’ sustainability mini-grant contest that was held in the spring of 2016.
“To put it simply,” Zook said, “the bike converts mechanical energy to electrical energy through the use of a motor. When electric motors are usually used, a battery is attached to them that makes them spin. [That system] also works backwards. If an individual physically spins the motor, electric energy is produced. That’s how this bike works — the rider pedals the bike and the chain is attached to the motor. Electricity is produced and sent into a grid tie inverter that converts the direct current into alternating current that can be transferred to a standard outlet. We can simply plug the bike into the outlet and it produces a flow of energy back into the grid.”
Simply or not, the bike works. “If we had a million bikes, we could offset the cost of [EMU’s] electric bill,” Zook said. “Obviously one bike creates a very small difference, but the point was to raise awareness for exercising in cleaner ways other than running a treadmill that burns through a lot of electricity.
Sophomore ESW co-leader Dylan Grove and First-year James Paetkau went on to design a poster explaining the bike’s design and enter it into ASEE’s Zone 2 conference poster contest, hosted in Puerto Rico. Grove and Paetkau travelled down to Puerto Rico with the poster. Assistant Professor of Engineering Esther Tian had led groups to the contest before and took care of the details during this entry.
The poster took first prize among the first-year-sophomore division. “[The contest] was a room with a bunch of free-standing poster boards. We stood by our poster and talked to anyone who asked us questions or had any input,” Grove said. “A lot of [people had] suggestions for what we could do in the future. A couple of people told us the next step was [to figure out] how to store the energy. One guy wanted us to power his TV.”
Some competitors were from larger schools like the University of Florida, West Virginia University, and Virginia Commonwealth University. “It was energizing to hear that we were able to compete with our engineering programs around the country,” Zook said.
The bike was a group effort. The final project included funding from Earthkeepers, welding done by Fleet and Equipment Coordinator Henry Bowser, and good old-fashioned ingenuity from the students in the ESW club.