Who knew a bike could do more than just promote health and wellness? Manoj Bhargara did, and he seems to have a knack for generating long-lasting energy from seemingly simple sources. Bhagara is most well known for having amassed a fortune of over 4 billion US dollars from developing the 5 Hour Energy Shot and he is using that wealth (he has pledged over 90% if it, in fact!) to bring a different kind of energy into the homes of those that need it most. Perhaps inspired by the principle behind the energy shot, he has developed a bicycle that, from a mere hour of cycling, is capable of generating enough energy to power a house for an entire 24 hour period.
In a truly energy efficient manner, the bicycle requires one hour of steady cycling to put its simple engineering to task and it generates absolutely no pollution. The bike is built with a flywheel, similar to many stationary bikes. For those unfamiliar, the flywheel is a heavy, revolving when that is used to ‘increase a machine’s momentum and thereby provide greater stability or a of available power during interruptions in the delivery of power to the machine.’
Since the mechanism has the conservation of power built right into it, Manoj Bhargara hooked it up to a turbine generator that creates electricity as the user pedals the bike, which is stored in a battery. That battery will supply enough electricity to keep the home lit and basic appliances running for a full day.
From One Bike to Ten Thousand
The bike was developed at Stage 2 Innovation Lab, which he built in partnership with former Chrysler CEO, Tom LaSorda. The Lab is known as “the most well-funded playhouse for engineers that you could imagine” and is also the birthplace of a variety of other innovations aimed at tackling poverty, reducing the impact of climate change, and boosting access to potable water. The bike can be made for around $100 USD. Bhargara recognizes that this is out of reach for many of the poorest people in need of it most, so he has committed to rolling out a pilot project in his native India, where he will issue 50 bikes to small villages in the province of Uttarakhard, where local labourers will manufacture them.
The design was purposefully simple, so “a bicycle repairman anywhere could fix it.” While the innovation is a startlingly simple and effective response to the lack of electricity that plagues most of the developing world, it has been met with some criticism. Some purport that the device falls in a reactionary camp of development innovations, by keeping entire communities ‘off the grid’ rather than bringing more communities onto the grid. For this reason, many still question the ‘off the grid’ alternatives to energy access and may refuse it altogether as a steady source of power.
If the initiative proves to be as useful as he hopes, Bhargara will distribute 10,000 bicycles across the country next year. He envisions small villages sharing the bicycles; each family can procure a battery and can take turns cycling for an hour to power their home for the next day. He also doesn’t plan to entirely give them away. He is hoping spur local economic growth by having the bicycles manufactured locally and through incentivizing distributors with profits.
Billions in Change
Manoj Bhargara is part of an initiative called the Giving Pledge, which is led by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The initiative calls for the world’s wealthiest people to commit much of their fortunes to charitable development in areas such as poverty reduction, access to water, environmental conservation, climate change response and clean energy.
The bicycle, affectionately named the Free Electric, is only one of many innovations produced by the engineers at the Stage 2 Innovations Lab. Recently a documentary about this and the other health, water and energy innovations that are currently in research and development stages at the lab. The documentary is titled Billions in Change, and it features innovative techniques to make saltwater drinkable, to harness clean geothermal energy with graphene and eliminating our reliance on fossil fuels, and has even developed an auxiliary heart that pumps blood from the legs through to the core of the body.
While the trailer is below, and you can view the 45 minute documentary in its entirety here.
Here is a short video about the Free Electric Bike: