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Boston University offers pedal power to charge electronics

Claire Richer, a senior, was the force behind getting bike desks into use at Boston University. Among other things, she raised $10,832 to buy two cycles from a Belgian company.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Standing desks, treadmill desks, and even the humble yoga ball have all been heralded as wellness solutions for an increasingly sedentary workforce.

Now at Boston University, sleek bike desks with power outlets are being promoted not just for physical fitness but also as pedal-generated electricity kiosks. The average user can crank out 100 watts without sweating, more than enough to power a laptop, smartphone, or LED lamp.

“The health benefit is one aspect, but it’s the practical aspect of generating your own electricity from the renewable source of a bike generator that is really transformative,” said Boston University senior Claire Richer, the driving force behind an environmental initiative that proposed the installation.


Richer raised the $10,832 needed to purchase the two bikes from the Belgian company WeWatt. She worked through legal issues and international shipping logistics and finally got the human-powered charging stations situated in the student lounge in the College of Arts and Science’s Stone Science Building.

The yearlong project was supported by her adviser, Nathan Phillips, who had his own homemade bike desk — made from his wife’s old Raleigh mountain bike — to take his office off the grid.

“We are trying to encourage burning calories instead of carbon,” said Phillips, who reluctantly had to give up his cycle desk when he went on sabbatical. Now he heads across the hall to the WeWatt bikes when his mobile devices need a charge.

“If people can be shown they can generate their own electricity, they might be inspired to start becoming self-sufficient by producing electricity for themselves,” said Richer, who is working to get the bike desks moved to a more visible location on campus.

He believes the office of the future will feature bike desks so workers can pedal away calories while also charging electronics.

“It is now feasible to use manpower in our offices to charge devices or light a room, said Richer. “Today we have low-energy technology that matches human-scale power capabilities. We can literally sweat to generate kilowatt hours.”


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