The power of ingenuity

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There is a new form of alternative electrical energy at Northern Arizona University—people power.

After nearly a year of planning and construction, a small group of dedicated students have discovered a hands-on, interactive way to charge their small electronic devices and educate their peers about electricity—by pedaling a bike at a bike-powered charging station. The station has a built-in USB outlet for plugging in cell phones and iPods. “This is a device where people can actually feel what power is and where it is coming from,” says senior engineering major Matt Petney. “This station will give students a physical idea of the energy they use.”

To use the station, students plug in their small electronic devices, get on the bike, and pedal. “The station will be really helpful for students who need to charge something during the day,” says 2012 environmental engineer graduate Marilla Lamb.

A collaborative student effort

A cross-section of Northern Arizona University students have contributed to the project and have built each component of the bike themselves. Engineering students, computer science students, and students from the university’s triathlon and cycling teams all played a role in the development of the charging station. “We worked with the electrical engineering students and computer science students directly to create every piece from scratch,” says Petney. 

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The students built the stand, placed glass around the battery, mounted the handlebars, and created the small computer touch screen that displays the amount of energy being produced. “It has been a lot of work,” says Lamb. The Yellow Bike Program donated the bike, and the university’s Green Fund, which promotes student participation in and provides funding for sustainability-related projects, granted $2,900 to pay for building materials and supplies.

Charging campus

The charging station will initially be placed on the second floor of the engineering building and will be moved to different buildings around campus throughout the year—with the goal of reaching as many students as possible.


“The objective of this project is to make students aware of the amount of electricity they use,” says Lamb. “We tend to plug things into outlets without any thought.”

In addition to raising student awareness about their energy consumption, the project hopes to inspire additional new ideas and encourage other students to get involved. “Tons of these could be produced in the coming years. All we need are students to make it happen.  If students take the initiative, the opportunities are endless,” says Petney. “College is not all about what you learn from textbooks.”

Photography by NAU student 

Christina Woodward