Integrating the Transportation Network Through Energy Credits

» Commuters on bikes could aid in filling up the electricity grid, and get free transport tickets in exchange.

As bike sharing becomes more and more popular in cities around the world, innovations in technology may make the systems a vital element of the urban landscape. Indeed, rather than simply a mobility tool, biking could become a power source — at least according to industrial designer Chi-Yu Chen, working at the Royal College of Art.

Mr. Chen’s bike design is innovative even as it uses standard technologies. By adding batteries to bikes and incorporating a dynamo in the wheel, the vehicles become mobile power stations, with electricity being created as commuters turn the wheels and apply power to the brakes. When cyclists return bikes to a station as part of a public rental scheme, the batteries would empty out their charge, moving the power into the general grid. That electricity, in turn, could be used to power sustainable transportation systems like electric hybrid buses and third rail-powered subways. Bikers would get a transit ticket price reduction immediately added to their fare smart cards based on how much electricity they contribute.

The end result? Human power for clean-running public transportation.

There are two reasons why such a system is unlikely to be implemented in the next few years: batteries are valuable, and would likely be stolen from bikes; and the amount of power generated would make a tiny dent in the power used by heavy-duty transit, making fare reductions tiny.

Yet with a well-designed system, created to be vandal-proof, such electricity-creating bikes could well serve a purpose. MIT researchers have created a “Copenhagen Wheel” that adds a motor powered by braking to bikes; with such a system, bikes become semi-electric and therefore more simple to use for people who aren’t able-bodied enough to use a normal bike at all times.

Just as important, the idea that everyday activities can aid in producing electricity doesn’t seem that far off. Already, plenty of trams and metros push electricity back into the grid when they brake through regenerative systems. Up-and-down escalators and elevators could be weighed against one another to power one another and save electricity. Short-distance transit links could use cable-car technologies to circulate energy flow in a closed-loop system, such as is already planned for the Oakland Airport Connector. These technologies would reinforce the concept that the energy system is an interconnected web, reducing electricity usage and cleaning the planet through sustainable transport.

Image above: Hybrid Squared, from Yanko Design

8 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Mike

    i remember riding a bicycle with a dynamo-powered headlamp as a kid, and it was not fun. it should be possible to make a more efficient bicyclist-powered dynamo, but you can’t get away from the fact that a cyclist can only comfortably put out so much energy, and any amount that the dynamo takes up is not available to propel the bike. now, regenerative braking that provides a power-assist when needed is a different story … it would, of course, be ridiculously expensive and would not feed power into the grid, but at least it would provide a benefit to the cyclist.

  • Loren Petrich

    Let’s work out the numbers.

    Our food intake sets an upper limit to our available energy output — a lot of gets used for internal function or gets turned into body heat by various inefficiencies.

    An input of 2000 – 3000 food calories per day is equivalent to an energy consumption of 100 – 150 watts or 0.13 – 0.2 horsepower.

    So that scheme is never going to work.

  • Matt Roberts

    Ok maybe I am not up to date with biking, but how would the breaking system work? The bikes I still ride and my kids, you hit the brakes and teh wheel stops and if you are not careful you go head over handlebars. As the inertia of the rider vastly outweighs the bikes, so unlike that of a car or train the braking process takes a lot less distance than someting like a Dynamic brake on a train or an F1 KERS device would require.

    I don’t know but this strikes me as too much a non-engineering, non-economic utopian though exercise that will never amount to anything other than to soak up some government grant money to prove it is not feasable. An industrial designer working at the Royal College of Art. Not saying nothing useful will ever come out of thought exercises like this, as it seems like anymore it is easier to say why something won’t work than why it does (guilty as charged) but this seems too environmentalist utopia to actually work.

  • Loren Petrich

    Once again, let us work out the numbers.

    It’s rather easy to estimate the kinetic energy of a typical bike rider. At 16 mph / 25 km/h and 180 lbs / 80 kg, that works out to be 2000 joules, or a 100-watt light bulb shining for 10 seconds.

    One’s not going to get much energy out of bicycle regenerative braking.

  • Ocean Railroader

    I don’t think a bike will be able to make enought power to sell to the grid. But I think it would be able to make enought to power a head light or cell phones maybe a Ipod possibly.

  • At 16 mph / 25 km/h and 180 lbs / 80 kg, that works out to be 2000 joules, or a 100-watt light bulb shining for 10 seconds.

    100-watt for 20 seconds, surely.

    But you’re right – this will never work in reality.

  • David

    Another problem I see with this idea is that people who bike usually have their own bicycles. They’re not going to rent or borrow one from the public area when they use their own. I agree with the theory that people biking is not going to power a metro train car.

  • i am overly conscious about food calories because i would hate to become fat and flabby in the future *”:

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