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Rec center energy project put on hold, due to return soon

Alex Schlee | Staff Writer | 02-15-2012
The Bemidji State University student green fee has paid for many eco-friendly projects around the university’s campus. One of the most recent projects, funded in part by the green fee, included installing several treadmills and elliptical machines in the Gillette Recreation-Fitness Center that could supply power to the university’s power grid.

This new equipment, installed several months ago, was designed to convert energy generated by running on a treadmill into usable electricity. A total of seven machines were added to the Gillette Recreation-Fitness Center, and more are planned to be added in the future.

The project has been put on hold, however, after an equipment failure rendered the device used to convert the energy generated by the machines useless last fall. Staff have been trying to get the conversion unit repaired since mid-October, around the time the usage rate of the center’s facilities was reaching its peak usage. The running machines themselves are still operational, but they can no longer effectively convert energy into electricity.

“We had a lot of excitement over this project.  We want to get it back up and running as soon as possible,” said Associate Director of Campus Recreation Duane Biehn, explaining that the system has been down for quite some time, but it is due to finally be repaired within the next month.

Biehn was in charge of the project’s initial setup, alongside Sustainability Coordinator Erika Bailey-Johnson and a group of several students.  The anticipation surrounding this concept was very high, and a lot of people were involved in bringing it to fruition.

While Biehn was in charge of the overall plans, and did a lot of the research behind making them possible, the original idea was brought up by a group of students. According to Biehn, he was approached by students doing group research into the idea of energy-generating treadmills. The idea snowballed from there, turning into a fully-funded campus project, backed by both the Gillette Recreation-Fitness Center and the Sustainability Office.

The installation of these energy-generating treadmills was partially-funded by the student green fee for $8,000, with the entire project costing about $20,000. The rest of the cost was backed by other university funding. While Biehn has said that the project isn’t due to turn a profit for a very long
time, the potential energy saving capacity of the new machines could have been promising.

All data on how much energy the machines were producing was lost when the system crashed in October.  Estimates by ReRev, the company that manufactures the energy-converting device that hooks into the university’s electrical grid, have stated that a single 30-minute workout could produce up to 50 hours of clean, carbon-free electricity.  Once the system is repaired, Biehn expects to find out what those figures could mean for BSU.