2016 Progress Report: An Ultra-Affordable Pedal Generator for Low Load Applications

EPA Grant Number: SU835936
Title: An Ultra-Affordable Pedal Generator for Low Load Applications
Investigators: Lacks, Daniel J
Institution: Case Western Reserve University
EPA Project Officer: Page, Angela
Phase: II
Project Period: October 1, 2015 through September 30, 2017 (Extended to August 31, 2018)
Project Period Covered by this Report: October 1, 2015 through September 30,2016
Project Amount: $75,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet - Phase 2 (2015) Recipients Lists
Research Category: Sustainability , P3 Awards , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy


Problem Definition: Our project is to design and produce an ultra-affordable pedal generator for low-load applications, which will meet a strong need in developing countries in two contexts: (a) rural villages in the most underdeveloped countries, where most of the population lives far from the electrical grid; (b) disaster relief in developing countries, where large-scale catastrophes (typhoons, tsunamis, earthquakes) leave large segments of the population without electricity for long periods of time.

Relevance and significance to developing or developed world: Perhaps the biggest problem facing the world’s most underdeveloped countries is the lack of access to electricity. Electricity access is under 50% in almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa, and in this region alone there are over 775 million people without access to electricity. In many of these countries the rate of electrical access is extremely small – e.g., only 16% in Lesotho (and even lower in other
countries). For people without access to electricity, even low-load electrical power (e.g., a few Watts) would transform their lives. They would have light to allow them read or do work at night, without having to use kerosene lamps (which give off harmful byproducts). They would be able to charge their cell phones without having to travel to a distant charging facility (often miles away, traveling by foot) and then having to pay a fee to charge their phone; note most villagers have cell phones, as this is the only way to communicate with family members who live elsewhere, either permanently or temporarily for seasonal work.

The purpose of this project is to design, produce and commercialize an ultra-affordable foot pedal generator that can comfortably provide the low-load power (e.g., 2 W) needed to charge a cell phone and illuminate an LED light.

Progress Summary:

The device operates by converting up-and-down pedal motion to one-way rotational motion of a flywheel; the conversion of the rotational motion of the flywheel to electrical energy; and the use of the electrical energy to power lights or to charge a cell phone. We describe these three components of the device operation separately:

Conversion of pedal motion to axle rotation: A mechanical devices were designed to convert the up-and-down motion of a pedal to one-way rotational motion of an axle.

Conversion of axle rotation to electricity: We carried out tests of a large number of motors, to determine the electrical power produced as a function of the rotation of the motor shaft. To carry out the tests, we measured the voltage and the current as a function of rotation rate. We found several inexpensive motors that were able to provide more than 1 W of power. The optimal motor in terms of price and power was the Kysan 1117124, which costs $2.50 and can provide up to 1.5 W of power.

Use of the device to generate electricity to power LEDs and charge cell phone: The pedal generator will be interfaced with a light and a cell phone charger. Inexpensive LEDs can provide sufficient light for reading can be powered with less than 5 V and about 1.5 W ($0.39 for 100,000 mcd white LED). For charging cell phones, a lithium ion battery requires electricity with a minimum of 4 V to charge; while there is no minimum requirement on the power, the time needed to charge the cell phone will be given by the capacity of the battery (e.g., in Wh) divided by the electrical power (e.g., in W); a typical phone battery has a storage capacity of about 4 Wh, so with 1 W of power it will take approximately 4 hours to fully charge the battery.


This project was described in a CWRU news release, and articles describing the project have appeared in venues worldwide, including:

  • http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150107122422.htm
  • http://phys.org/news/2015-01-students-charger-world-needy.html
  • http://www.techentice.com/pedal-powered-phone-chargers-making-way-soon/
  • http://www.geektime.com/2015/01/14/charging-cell-phones-in-sub-saharan-africa-with-foot-power/
  • http://www.siasat.com//english/news/soon-foot-powered-cell-phone-charger-worlds-needy
  • http://www.gizmodo.in/Gizmodo/Pedal-powered-Phone-Chargers-Will-Be-A-Reality-Soon/articleshow/45851374.cms

The team was featured in TV news stories, including:

  • Lesotho national TV news (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mlvUtvKUxE&feature=youtu.be)
  • Cleveland station WKYC, the local NBC affiliate (http://www.wkyc.com/story/news/local/northeast-ohio/see-possible/2015/02/22/local-students-idea-improving-third-world-technology/23846843/
The team has also entered several business competitions, including:
  • 2015 Great Lakes Energy Institute Clean Energy Challenge (3rd Place)2015 CWRU Spartan Challenge (1st Place)
  • 2015 Carnegie Mellon University Venture Challenge (one of 12 teams to proceed to semi-finals, of 75 teams that entered)
  • 2015 PitchU competition at CWRU (1st Place)
  • Hudson Library Pitch Night (1st Place)
The video pitch used in these business competitions can be viewed at:

Supplemental Keywords:

Generator, off-grid, cell phone charging

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2017 Progress Report
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    An Ultra-Affordable Pedal Generator for Low Load Applications