Charge! NAU's Bike-Powered Electronics Charging Station Opens

Bike wheels are turning on the campus of Northern Arizona University, but not just for exercise. The eco-pedaler uses human power to charge portable electronics. Arizona Public Radio's Janice Baker reports.

An NAU student "powers up" personal electronics on the eco-pedaler
Credit KNAU/Janice Baker

On the second floor of the NAU Engineering Building, 2 students are engaged in a friendly competition on the eco-pedaler. It's a stationary bike designed as a charging station for small electronics like cell phones and ipods. It was designed by a group of engineering students under the guidance of Karin Wadsack, project director for Sustainable Energy Solutions at NAU. "In the context of teaching energy," Wadsack says, "it is an idea that has come up quite a bit and people on campus and off campus wanted to pursue it."

Wadsack says 2 students presented her with the idea of the eco-pedaler after a local teacher told them he wanted a new way to teach kids about energy, wattage and power use. Marilla Lamb was one of those students. Her design partner, Matthew Petney, says he hopes the eco-pedaler will bring awareness to how much energy we waste. "If they can hop on the bike and generate 200 watts, that's nothing, that's 3 normal light bulbs," Petney says. "If they're working hard enough to generate the power of 3 light bulbs and they have 8 on at their house all the time, and their refrigerator and their TV plugged in, maybe it'll make them think about the energy that they use."

Petney and Lamb also got design tips from the NAU bike team. It took about a year to build and went into service this semester. On this morning, student Matt Anderson is trying it out. "It's an interesting concept," he says. "It really opens peoples' eyes to how much energy you can produce with the power of your own body."

Project director Karin Wadsack says over the last 2 years, bike charging stations have become more and more popular across the country and have been used in unique situations. "During the Occupy Wall Street, there were bicycle power stations that were available for people that were living in the parks," Wadsack says. "During Hurricane Sandy when there was no power in Manhattan, it was actually suddenly an emergency management tool."

Wadsack says other engineering students are building off the technology of the eco-pedaler. They're trying to figure out how to charge larger electronics and even build bicycle generators. At the very least, it's a good workout.