To Power Computers, Students Just Pedal

Electricity costs Byron Center Public Schools 11 cents per watt, Zoey Christensen explained as Jordan Whitmore pedaled away on an energy-producing box. If Jordan pedaled for an hour on the box, she said, it would create enough energy to charge a student’s laptop, which every student in her school has.

Charging computers with pedal power is the idea Byron Center West Middle School students’ 10-person Eco Challenge team submitted to the Lexus Eco Challenge competition this year. The Scholastic contest required students to create projects that help the environment. Sixteen teams nationwide will receive first-prize awards of $10,000. Winners can enter a final challenge for a grand prize of $30,000.

“Ever since we got the computers, kids have been charging them every hour,” Zoey said.Jordan Whitmore peddles a man-powered generator

Students at the school each received MacBook Air laptops from the district at the start of the school year, and many didn’t understand the energy-savings feature of the computers. Eco Challenge team members  informed their peers how to optimize the laptop battery, and purchased two human-powered generators from K-TOR, an innovative technology company. The boxes, which cost about $100 each, were paid for with funds from the Parents at West group. It takes about one hour of pedaling to charge a computer from 0 to 100 percent.

A Record of Projects Making a Difference

The team of eighth-graders has entered  the contest several years in a row, completing projects on rainforest preservation, invasive species removal, going paperless and revamping the school’s recycling program. In 2010-2011, the team won $10,000 by raising enough funds to buy rainforest land to completely offset the Middle School building carbon footprint. It won again in 2011-2012  by implementing new school recycling efforts and partnering with the community to promote the benefits of passing the bond so the building could become paperless. The school is now almost completely paperless, said Justin Vande Pol, science teacher and team adviser.  The team also wrote a bill to send to U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Cascade Township) banning idling cars in Michigan.

Students had to learn about electronics to learn to charge the computersJordan said he has learned through Eco Challenge how “a group of 10 kids” can make a big difference.

They also are learning how science can be applied to real-world problems through student-led projects. “I thought it would be really fun and a really good way to help the community,” said team member Ashley Cyrus.

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Lexus Eco Challenge

Erin Albanese
Erin Albanese has worked as a journalist in the Grand Rapids area since 2000. A graduate of Central Michigan University, she has written for The Grand Rapids Press, Advance Newspapers and On-the-Town Magazine. Besides covering the many exciting facets of K-12 public education for School News Network, she writes freelance for the travel industry. Read Erin's full bio

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