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Posted: Wednesday, Apr. 21, 2010

Pump your legs and make some electricity

By Lukas Johnson
Published in: Mooresville News

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Davidson College is reducing its carbon footprint with an idea from sophomore Alexis Valauri-Orton.

The 20-year-old student from Seattle is majoring in biology with an environmental studies concentration. She and some classmates came up with the idea for a project in an environmental studies class.

After the class ended, she kept pushing to make it a reality.

With the help of multiple grants - including a $10,000 Brita Filter For Good Grant and a $4,000 Davidson College Green Grant - three elliptical machines have been installed in the Nisbet Fitness Center in the Alvarez College Union. The machines were built by PreCor and modified by ReRev, a Florida-based company that specializes in retrofitting exercise equipment to make clean, alternative energy.

"The biggest cost is the initial installation of the system," Valauri-Orton said. "But as we get new machines, it will be relatively inexpensive to retrofit them and hook them up so they can produce energy."

Through the ReRev System, these machines capture kinetic energy from a workout and convert it into electricity distributed to the Union's power grid. The machines have been in use since April 5 and can produce enough power to run the gym's lights, officials said.

A 30-minute workout produces 50 watt hours of clean, carbon-free electricity. That's enough to charge a cell phone six times, run a laptop for an hour or power a compact fluorescent light bulb for two-and-a-half hours, according to ReRev.

Davidson College President Tom Ross said the project is a great educational tool and a step in the right direction. Short-term benefits won't be drastic, he said, but because more machines can be added at a relatively low cost, the potential exists for long-term benefits.

"It's the second significant student idea that we've implemented," Ross said. "The project is fantastic in a lot of realms, but it's also a reminder to students about the importance of living a sustainable lifestyle."

The first student project the college implemented was a composting setup. It's been in place for about a year and has cut the school's food waste in half, Ross said. The compost also is used throughout campus to fertilize the landscaping.

Other projects to be completed within the next year include solar panel and solar-thermal installations and fueling campus vehicles with bio-fuel, Ross said.

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