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  1. #1 Think about this for a moment before you dismiss it as a crazy idea 
    Festivus Moderator ralph wiggum's Avatar
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    philboy(1000+ posts)
    Tue Jul-22-08 09:20 AM
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    Think about this for a moment before you dismiss it as a crazy idea

    I was watching T. Boone Pickens' commercial last night, and I was looking at the wind turbines.

    The wind turns the propellers, and that mechanical energy is converted to electricity. Pretty simple. Looking at the turbines, it does not seem to take a huge amount of wind to turn one of those things.

    The theory is simple. Mechanical energy, driven by the wind, is used to power a device that makes electricity. The wind takes the place of other forms of energy (steam, coal, petroleum, etc.).

    Following this concept, I started thinking about the mechanical energy that is created by human beings. Think of one of those crank radios. You turn a crank for a few moments, and that generates the electricity that is needed to power the radio for a short amount of time. In essence, the electricity is made by a generator that is powered by the human hand.

    What would happen if we were to devise a way to capture the mechanical energy created by human beings and convert it to electricity? Let's say some sort of treadmill device.

    To carry this theory further, lets say the government bought up huge amounts of unused land all over the country in major metropolitan areas. This land would be converted to "treadmill farms" for lack of a better term. I'm not thinking of treadmills that are used to exercise on, I am thinking of a very large treadmill type device that would be powered by several thousand people. And I'm talking several of them, on several different plots of land all over the country.

    People would literally walk on these treadmills, thus creating the mechanical energy to produce electricity, thus freeing up the petroleum that is required to produce electricity in the traditional manner. If you think about it, IN THEORY, this is not much different that having a field full turbines powered by the wind.

    Ok, so in theory, it sounds like it might not be impossible to create a treadmill like device that would create some electricity when powered by human beings.

    Would this work as a practical matter? Let's see...

    The first question becomes...how many treadmills are needed across the country to make an appreciable dent in our electricity generation. Also, what is the initial capital cost of building these treadmills. I have no idea how to answer this.

    Secondly, how the hell do you get people to walk on a treadmill? answer" You pay them. That is their job. To walk on a treadmill. Let's say you pay them $15/hour, which is equivalent to $30,000 per year if they did this 8 hours a day. They clock in and out, and they are paid by the hour. This would save a lot of unemployed people, and serve as a stop gap for people who temporarily cannot find work.


    Third. how many people do you need, on a macro scale, to generate enough mechanical power to make a difference? I have no idea. Let's say 2 million. 2 million people times $30,000 a year equals 60 billion dollars annually, to be funded by the Government. How much mechanical energy could 2 million people create? No idea. Would it be enough to justify a 60 billion dollar annual outlay? No idea.

    Ok, so I have presented a theory that is based on converting human mechanical energy to electricity, similar to wind generated power. In theory, it seems like a grand idea. As a practical matter, I have no idea since I am not an engineer.

    So, if you want to flame me and call me stupid, at least provide some rationale for why this would not be possible.
    You are stupid, and this is a crazy idea. :D
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  2. #2  
    Quote Originally Posted by ralph wiggum View Post
    You are stupid, and this is a crazy idea. :D
    Uh.....didn't they make a movie about this? I think they called it The Matrix. :eek:
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  3. #3  
    Festivus Moderator ralph wiggum's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Gingersnap View Post
    Uh.....didn't they make a movie about this? I think they called it The Matrix. :eek:
    It was mentioned as a response in the thread.
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  4. #4  
    I don't think it's such a crazy idea. If exercise nuts want to walk for hours to power my air conditioning, who am I to stop them?
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  5. #5  
    Sonnabend
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  6. #6  
    Super Moderator bijou's Avatar
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    Hmmm if only the Victorians hadn't got there first, human powered treadmills wouldn't have had such a bad rap.

    Last edited by bijou; 07-22-2008 at 11:26 AM.
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  7. #7  
    Quote Originally Posted by bijou View Post
    Hmmm if only the Victorian's hadn't got there first, human powered treadmills wouldn't have had such a bad rap.

    Yeah, but these days the walkers (runners?) would be doing it voluntarily. Where's the downside?
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  8. #8  
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    Wow. This ranks right up there with the rabbit cage and kerosene 9/11 experiment.
    OPEACHMENT NOW!!!

    Stinger:
    "I was... ordered to drop my pants, bend over and spread my cheeks."
    --RagingInMiami achieving the DUmp's highest level of nirvana
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  9. #9  
    Okay, I've thought about it for a moment. A moment was all it took: it's a crazy idea. I'm sure everyone at CU is smart enough to see the glaring flaws in this idea, but for the lurking DUmmies, have a lesson in thermodynamics.

    Yes, a wind turbine converts the mechanical energy of moving air into electricity. But where does that energy come from in the first place? Well, the wind blows because of thermodynamic pressure caused by temperature differentials. And the temperature differentials exist because of energy from the sun. No sun, no wind, no windpower. And here's the kicker: thanks to that pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics (which is false, but never mind that for now), the amount of energy in the wind is less than the amount of energy from the sun which produced it, and the amount electricity produced from the wind is less than the amount of energy the wind contains.

    Now sure, people walking are producing mechanical energy. But that doesn't come from nowhere, either. That comes from chemical reactions taking place in their muscles, which in turn are powered by energy released from the food that those people ate. The food contains energy because it captured energy from the sun (in the case of plants) or it ate something (or ate something that ate something, etc) that captured energy from the sun, in the case of animals. And again, there are losses. Big ones... the human body is a terribly inefficient mechanism for converting the energy in food to mechanical energy, which is why you get hot and sweaty when you exercise. The amount of electricity it is possible to get from human beings on a treadmill is far smaller than the amount of electricity you'd produce by taking the food those people would have eaten and burning it to power a steam turbine.

    But hey, let's ignore that, too. Let's do some math. You're going to pay people to run on treadmills all day. Fine. How much will you pay them? The federal minimum wage is $6.55/hour. Of course, that's unconscionably, criminal low according to the DU, but let's use it as a baseline. Let's assume that these guys weigh a hefty 200 pounds each, but they're superhuman Olympic marathoners capable of running an endless stream of four-minute miles. Let's assume that if, while he was moving at 15 miles/hour he suddenly stopped running, he would skid to a complete halt in one second and therefore he must generate enough power to keep a constant acceleration of 15 miles per hour per second to maintain his speed. The amount of power it would take to keep that 200 pound body moving at 15 MPH is just a hair over 4 kW (*). In one hour, our marathoner will produce 4 kWh. Of course, the treadmill wouldn't be operating at anywhere near 100% efficiency, but hey, let's ignore that, too, and suppose a perfect, idealized theoretical treadmill. At federal minimum wage, the electricity generated would cost $1.6375/kWh. That's just in salary to the marathoner, and doesn't include administrative costs, nor the hefty capital costs, but let's ignore those, too. The average retail price of electricity in the United States is $0.0896/kWh. So even with the most ridiculously optimistic assumptions, electricity from the treadmill farm will cost 1700% more than the electricity we're currently using. If all electricity came from this wonderful treadmill farm, total electrical expenditures in the United States would rise from $56 billion/year to just over a trillion dollars.

    In conclusion: my God, philboy, you are thick.

    (*) I am not at all sure about the accuracy of this calculation. I am, however, quite sure that there's no way in hell that a human being on a treadmill could produce anywhere near enough electricity to make it economical to pay him to do it.
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  10. #10  
    Quote Originally Posted by Voice of Reason View Post
    You're going to pay people to run on treadmills all day.
    Why would you have to pay them? People pay to do the same in gyms all across the country every day. And nutroots would surely do it for free! I still say it's a brilliant plan. :D
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