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Billionaire designs stationary bike that can power an entire home (+ video)

Bikes to be rolled out in rural India to solve power supply problems

A mysterious billionaire has said he will spend his entire fortune on solving the world’s energy problems, beginning with a stationary bike that he says could power the homes of millions.

Manoj Bhargava, who created an energy drink after dropping out of ‘boring’ Princeton University, has around $4 billion more than he needs.

He has designed a stationary bike named Free Electric, which he plans to distribute to 10,000 homes in India. Here's a video giving an overview.

He says that the device can power lights and basic appliances for an entire day with one hour of pedaling.

“If you have wealth, it’s a duty to help those who don’t,” Bhargava, 62, said in a documentary, Billions in Change.

“Make a difference in people’s lives. Don’t just talk about it.”

It holds “huge potential and opportunity for rural households,” Ajaita Shah, CEO of Frontier Markets, a company selling solar lamps and lighting kits in India, told National Geographic.

“It’s so simple that we think we can make it for $100 … A bicycle repairman anywhere can fix it,” Bhargava said.

Pedaling turns a turbine generator that creates electricity, stored in a battery. Its monitor shows how much the battery is charged.

The first 50 bikes will be tested in 15 or 20 small villages in the northern state of Uttarakhand before a major rollout in the first quarter of next year.

“This is going to affect a few billion people,” he said.

He won’t give the bike away, because he says people won’t take care of something that’s free. Instead, he plans to incentivise distributors with profits.

He added a village can also pool its resources, buying one bike but multiple batteries that can be swapped out to power individual homes.

He added he didn’t want to “ruin” his son by giving him any of his fortune.

“I told him when he was 10, 'You’re not getting anything.' His attitude: 'Great. I want to do it on my own.”

Back in 2009 we reported how a programme on BBC1 harnessed pedal power to highlight how much electricity it takes to keep various appliances in the home running, and just how much we waste by leaving devices switched on.

Called 'Bang Goes The Theory: Human Power Station', the programme focuses on the Collins family from Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

The programme relates how despite Mrs Collins’ efforts to try to get the family to turn off light switches and switch off power-hungry devices such as computer monitors, the message failed to get through until they agreed to take part in a 12-hour experiment that saw the home powered not by the National Grid, but an army of cyclists.

The 80 cyclists involved – all cycling club members rather than your average commuter or Sunday cyclist – were co-ordinated by London-based Electric Pedals, who have previously been responsible for projects including an electric-powered Christmas tree lights in Hyde Park, and also design and build generator systems for any event featuring human power.

Despite the level of experience of the cyclists involved in the experiment, the results were startling. The Collins family had not been informed in advance about the nature of the programme, being told instead to act as though they were at home, and were therefore blissfully unaware of the cyclists pedalling furiously to supply the power, with 30 alone needed to help boil the kettle.

At one point, as the family went about what they would be doing on a normal Sunday afternoon – dad vacuuming while mum sorted out the Sunday roast and the kids were occupied on the Wii – it all proved too much for the cyclists, who were unable to keep up with the demands being placed on them, and power went down.

NB This story was originally published on 10 October 2015 and was republished on 13 November 2015 to include the video.

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26 comments

Avatar
Matt eaton | 8 years ago
0 likes

Interesting idea and an admirable aim but I do wonder about whether the target users have lifestyles that support churning it out for an hour a day. Maybe electicity is valuable enough to make it a good use of time.

Avatar
Lungsofa74yearold | 8 years ago
1 like

Amazing man - I wish him every success. By way of counterpoint, I read this week that Roman Abramovich has poured at least £2 billion into Chelsea since he bought them - £1.49 billion of this was wages. Obscene doesn't even begin to cover it. One man is a giant, the other a parasitic midget. Rant over.

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BBB | 8 years ago
0 likes

Human power isn't free. Extra calories must cost something...

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Airzound | 8 years ago
1 like

The NHS should be prescribing this stationary bike generator to all fat people, in fact a recumbent on a turbo trainer where at least they can sit down. This will show them how much energy is needed to cook all their food.

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hawkinspeter | 8 years ago
2 likes

Nice idea, but I think he's over-selling it by claiming that cycling for an hour will power lights and basic appliances for a whole day. A typical person would produce about 0.1kWh after cycling for an hour which would light up a 4W bulb for a day, but not much else.

It'd be really handy if someone could develop a very low power fridge as refridgeration is a major "enabling" technology for people (e.g. a lot of medicines require cooler temperatures) and arguably made the biggest change to Western civilisation in the 20th century. However, you'd be lucky to find a fridge using less than 100W, so you be cycling 24 hours a day to keep that running.

Avatar
Cheesyclimber replied to hawkinspeter | 8 years ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

It'd be really handy if someone could develop a very low power fridge as refridgeration is a major "enabling" technology for people (e.g. a lot of medicines require cooler temperatures) and arguably made the biggest change to Western civilisation in the 20th century. However, you'd be lucky to find a fridge using less than 100W, so you be cycling 24 hours a day to keep that running.

I've often wondered why fridges can't tap into the naturally cooler air outside the house somehow. I guess there's a good reason, but running a fridge (and even a freezer) in the depths of the British winter seems like a massive waste of energy.

Avatar
Al__S replied to Cheesyclimber | 8 years ago
0 likes
thelimopit wrote:

 

I've often wondered why fridges can't tap into the naturally cooler air outside the house somehow. I guess there's a good reason, but running a fridge (and even a freezer) in the depths of the British winter seems like a massive waste of energy.

The simple reason is plumbing. Whilst modern refrigerants are less hazaradous than in the past,  they're still not great. You would need to create a guarenteed leak-free loop and would limit the positioning in the kitchen, with an addtional need for some sort of outside unit. It's not a terrible idea, it's just that a standalone, plug-and-plat fridge and/or freezer unit is so much simpler.

Avatar
bikebot replied to hawkinspeter | 8 years ago
2 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Nice idea, but I think he's over-selling it by claiming that cycling for an hour will power lights and basic appliances for a whole day. A typical person would produce about 0.1kWh after cycling for an hour which would light up a 4W bulb for a day, but not much else.

It'd be really handy if someone could develop a very low power fridge as refridgeration is a major "enabling" technology for people (e.g. a lot of medicines require cooler temperatures) and arguably made the biggest change to Western civilisation in the 20th century. However, you'd be lucky to find a fridge using less than 100W, so you be cycling 24 hours a day to keep that running.

I can see an even simpler problem than that, solar panels are cheaper.  They also have the advantage that no one needs to pedal them, lots of India's poor work very long hours.

As a confirmed tech head, my view on the future of energy is fairly simple.  It's going to mostly be solar.

 

 

 

Avatar
bikebot replied to hawkinspeter | 8 years ago
0 likes
hawkinspeter wrote:

Nice idea, but I think he's over-selling it by claiming that cycling for an hour will power lights and basic appliances for a whole day. A typical person would produce about 0.1kWh after cycling for an hour which would light up a 4W bulb for a day, but not much else.

It'd be really handy if someone could develop a very low power fridge as refridgeration is a major "enabling" technology for people (e.g. a lot of medicines require cooler temperatures) and arguably made the biggest change to Western civilisation in the 20th century. However, you'd be lucky to find a fridge using less than 100W, so you be cycling 24 hours a day to keep that running.

I think you'll like this then, 

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/new-refrigerato...

The team explaining it - https://vimeo.com/135330470

 

 

 

Avatar
hawkinspeter replied to bikebot | 8 years ago
1 like
bikebot wrote:
hawkinspeter wrote:

Nice idea, but I think he's over-selling it by claiming that cycling for an hour will power lights and basic appliances for a whole day. A typical person would produce about 0.1kWh after cycling for an hour which would light up a 4W bulb for a day, but not much else.

It'd be really handy if someone could develop a very low power fridge as refridgeration is a major "enabling" technology for people (e.g. a lot of medicines require cooler temperatures) and arguably made the biggest change to Western civilisation in the 20th century. However, you'd be lucky to find a fridge using less than 100W, so you be cycling 24 hours a day to keep that running.

I think you'll like this then, 

http://www.mnn.com/green-tech/research-innovations/blogs/new-refrigerato...

The team explaining it - https://vimeo.com/135330470

That looks interesting, I hope they manage to perfect that idea. Keeping food from spoiling would be a major help to the world's poor (estimates are that 40% of food is wasted). Just found a simpler "fridge" tech though: http://permaculturenews.org/2008/08/11/a-refrigerator-that-runs-without-...

Avatar
Gkam84 | 8 years ago
1 like

*Waits for someone to take the idea, make a different flashy video and post it on kickstarter*

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Must be Mad | 8 years ago
0 likes

laugh Bravo

So long as the battery has a decent life span, a very useful invention.

I have often wondered why turbo trainers don't connect to the national grid.

Avatar
fenix replied to Must be Mad | 8 years ago
0 likes
Must be Mad wrote:

laugh Bravo

So long as the battery has a decent life span, a very useful invention.

I have often wondered why turbo trainers don't connect to the national grid.

 

i doubt it's worth it. My best hour was 230 watts. How often do people turbo anyway ? 

Id think the cost of connection doesn't justify it. 

Avatar
choddo replied to fenix | 8 years ago
0 likes
fenix wrote:
Must be Mad wrote:

laugh Bravo

So long as the battery has a decent life span, a very useful invention.

I have often wondered why turbo trainers don't connect to the national grid.

 

i doubt it's worth it. My best hour was 230 watts. How often do people turbo anyway ? 

Id think the cost of connection doesn't justify it. 

Aren't we already connected? What does it take to convert to a feed-in system like solar?

Avatar
Dr. Ko | 8 years ago
1 like

First step would be to reduce the energy consumption:

- lighting can be done with LED bulbs using 3-5 W
- modern laptops are down to 50 W

On the other hand the human body only has 20-25% efficiency turning food into power.

I use a very small solar panel to charge my smart phone and Garmin - if it had been a sunny week.

Regards,

Dr. Ko

Avatar
vonhelmet | 8 years ago
0 likes

At last? The Victorians say hi.

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Batchy | 8 years ago
3 likes

At last , someone who realises that wealth needs to be redistributed in order to improve the lives of others less fortunate. I hope he is sucessful with this invention.
Mr Bhargava needs to speak to Dave and George about wealth redistribution !

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carytb | 8 years ago
0 likes

Good idea to keep those serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure occupied. Want to watch TV this evening? Well get pedalling.

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The goat replied to carytb | 8 years ago
3 likes
carytb wrote:

Good idea to keep those serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure occupied. Want to watch TV this evening? Well get pedalling.

It might be a way to get my kids more active - no peddling  - no TV!

Avatar
carytb | 8 years ago
1 like

Good idea to keep those serving at Her Majesty's Pleasure occupied. Want to watch TV this evening? Well get pedalling.

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mrmo | 8 years ago
0 likes

if you recon on someone putting out 100watts, what can you power? certainly a few led light bulbs, or a phone charger, and probably a few other things. Trying to run a TV or a cooker well you are going to need to be peddling for a bit longer, but as long as the batteries are well thought out it should be possible.

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lushmiester | 8 years ago
1 like

Am starting to think about all those turbo trainer that will be spinning away this winter!

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mirric | 8 years ago
1 like

If he can get it to power a TV, then I think he could solve a couple of major problems - energy poverty and obesity. We'd have to get on the bike to power the TV. Then he could sell it to the western world at a profit to subsidise cheap/free ones in the third world.

Avatar
atlaz | 8 years ago
2 likes

It depends on what you're powering. Their demo is some lights, phone charger and a small fan, not a cooker. The whole point is what people in small villages in India need, not what you need to make your breakfast.

Admirable goal and a VERY admirable man.

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Gasman Jim | 8 years ago
0 likes

I have only one comment on this subject:
Robert Forstemann and the toaster experiment!

Ain't gonna work!

Avatar
swldxer | 8 years ago
0 likes

You've spelled it "stationEry in the header and link though. EDIT - now corrected.

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