Would You Run in a Hamster Wheel to Save the Earth?


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A mockup of the Green Wheel. Photo: Nadim Inaty

Okay, you won't save the earth. But you will help it along a tiny bit.

Nadim Inaty, an industrial designer from Beirut, Lebanon, is developing a public treadmill that would essentially crowdsource electricity from runners. The concept, which Inaty has dubbed Green Wheel, converts kinetic energy produced by a runner inside what is essentially a hamster wheel into electricity.

A single runner could generate about 120 watts in a half hour. That's a minuscule amount of power. It could power a compact fluorescent light bulb for about five hours. Big deal. But if multiple wheels were installed throughout a city and they were regularly used, well, that would create more power, but still not that much. That's not really the point, however.

“There’s a huge lack of knowledge in our community and society about how much energy we consume and what it takes to produce it,” says Inaty. The Green Wheel is a way to harvest small amounts of wasted energy, sure, but it's more symbolic than practical.

“The main objective of this wheel is just to create awareness and make people understand that there are other ways of creating electricity,” he says. “Those who use it will feel like they are contributing to a solution and even the people who are just watching will are thinking about [energy and power generation].”

Inaty hopes to build the first Green Wheels along Corniche El Manara, a seaside promenade in Beirut that's popular among runners and cyclists. He's still searching for a sponsor to pay for the installation.

His vision is to install multiple Green Wheels and network them to a battery that would power the municipal lights along the street. If the wheel was unused and the battery drained, the lights would automatically switch to the established electrical grid.

If it comes to fruition, the Green Wheel will not be the first treadmill to harvest energy. Portland's Green Microgym has retrofitted its exercise machines with generators that pull the kinetic energy created by gym members and uses it to help power the building. During busy times, the gym draws all its electricity needs directly from the machines.

What if every gym across the country was set up this way? All those treadmills, stationary bikes and elliptical trainers would be harvesting a good chunk of otherwise wasted energy, while offsetting carbon emissions. It's enough to make me think that maybe there's value in exercising indoors.

—Mary Catherine O'Connor