Progressing Human Power

Jack Zeis, ESLLC 2015-2016

Of all the renewable sources of energy human power is likely the most prominent in all of our lives. But where does the future of human power lie? When we get down to it we already use a fair bit in our daily lives, mostly for transit. Biking and walking are obvious examples of human energy. But what if we could harvest the energy we are constantly creating. After all, we are all in a perpetual state of motion (except maybe when we’re asleep).

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The present conversation revolves mostly around use of energy to create power in generators. Some gyms today use their cycling machines and treadmills to power generators which keep their lights on. A little extra motivation to keep going unless you want to work in the dark. One of the coolest adaptations of this idea is the power-producing dance floors being installed in dance clubs across the country. These suckers turn your boogie into power to keep the music pumping and the lights flashing so you can dance all night long. There are other simpler applications of this human power like the PlayPumps that had a brief surge of popularity in communities that needed a way to pump fresh groundwater into water towers. The idea was to set up a merry-go-round like device that would pump water into the tower while kids were playing. This idea unfortunately turned out to be much better on paper than in practice. This is likely due to the pre-existing infrastructure in communities that have available groundwater negating the need for the PlayPump and some discrepancies around the morality or play versus child labor. But the idea remains a strong indication that there is hidden potential in human power.

Probably the most exciting future of human energy is in the idea of Piezoelectricity. This is essentially just the transfer of mechanical force into usable energy via a large array of devices. These may include knee braces or bike attachments that turn what would have been wasted energy into power that could charge your phone or some day even power your house (Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch). Currently researches are investigating the use of viruses as a piezoelectric medium. If successful, this technology could allow nearly any surface to turned into a piezoelectric generator with the simple application of a layer of the nano-virus much like a coat of paint. Current prototypes are able to generate the energy equivalent of a AAA battery from a generator that is a mere 3cm3.

Although human power may never advance into these sci-fi realms, the future remains hopeful. And until then, keep on walking.

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