Marathon power

London Marathon

Forget wind and water, the new way to create power is human motion.

This weekend sees some 38,000 runners take part in the London Marathon and according to research from the Royal Society of Chemistry they will each use up the same amount of energy as turning on a 1Kw heater for an hour. But what if you flipped the production over and used all that motion and energy to create power and electricity?

The French tried it at the Paris marathon in 2013. They teamed up with Schneider Electric and UK firm Pavegen to install a 25 metre section of energy harvesting tiles on the race track itself. These tiles, over the six hours of the marathon, logged 401,756 footsteps and harvested 3,141,926 joules, which were used to power LED lights to help encourage the runners to keep going.

It was also enough energy to power:

  • 1880 mobile phones
  • 1 electric Nissan Leaf car for 24.14 km and
  • 15,666 Google searches.

What next?

Exercising the best brains in the energy research field is nanotechnology, which uses human motion to power electronics and other devices. Some are works in progress, others already on the market.

Under your feet

Pavegen in leading the way in external walking technology with its tiles installed in eco-friendly buildings such as The Crystal in London and at Terminal 3 in Heathrow Airport. Each tile flexes by 5mm when stepped on, resulting in up to 8 watts of kinetic energy over the footstep. The energy produced can be stored in batteries, or used instantly to power lights for example.

Sanaa Siddiqui at Pavegen says: “There’s a huge potential in utilising kinetic energy as an inexhaustible resource. This electricity can be used to power lighting, advertisement displays and interactive screens. In the future, we want to see this technology at the forefront of clean-energy in smart cities – working in an interconnected environment to provide renewable energy and data, at the cost of standard flooring solutions.”

In your shoes

But more personal technology is also being developed which uses walking power to charge anything from phones to laptops. For example, a mobile phone needs up to 2 watts of electricity to charge. InStep NanoPower has launched a shoe with an embedded energy harvesting sole which can generate as much as 15 watts per shoe – enough to power devices such as mobiles and GPS – and has inbuilt Wi-Fi to act as a middleman between devices and the Wi-Fi network, again saving battery life. Good for anyone who constantly runs of out mobile battery, it could be particularly useful for soldiers who typically carry batteries as part of their kit to power, night vision googles and radios, for example.

Also awaiting launch is EnSoles, from tech firm SolePower, which also covert your shoes into mini batteries but can be fitted independently into most shoes. The firm reckons an hour of walking will produce enough power for 30 minutes of mobile talk time or 20 minutes of data.

On your back

Hikers, soldiers and anyone else wearing a backpack can also generate their own power, thanks to nanotechnology. Companies such as Lightening Packs LLC with the Electricity Generating Backpack and Tremont Electric’s nPower PEG backup charger use a variety of different methods to produce energy from the gait of your walk. As much as 40 watts can be generated by someone running with one of its backpacks claims Lightening Packs.

With the digital economy, of which smart phones and laptops make up a significant part, using a tenth of the world’s electricity, anything that converts the power of human movement has to be a good thing – and might help us get fit at the same time!

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