2017 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, 2016 through September 30,2017
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 new group of students in this project period began a new design, which is based on heel- tapping rather than toe-tapping. Heel-tapping motion -- much like we often do while sitting in chairs -- is a much more comfortable and sustainable bodily motion. The final heel pedal design could ideally be strapped to the leg of a chair to provide optimum ergonomics for the user and maximize the time the user could spend cranking the generator. The pedal generator uses a flywheel and gear system hooked up to a drum motor to product electric current. A hand lever from a squeeze generator was retrofitted to act as a foot pedal, and is the mechanical power input to the system. The foot pedal has gear teeth along a curved arm, and is what drives the gear system. The circuitry of the device consists of a capacitor and a 2-prong Type A outlet. The capacitor helps smooth the energy output since the mechanical input is staggered and inconsistent. One of the gears in the system was 3D printed here at Case Western’s Think[box] since the design required a combination of the flywheel mechanism and a gear. The generator casing was laser cut out of 1/4 inch acrylic at Think[box] as well. The casing is reinforced with small support pieces and held together by J-B Weld steel-reinforced epoxy.


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

  • 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
  • 2016 Progress Report
  • Final

  • P3 Phase I:

    An Ultra-Affordable Pedal Generator for Low Load Applications