|Sophomore's Determination Will Lead to a Greener College Union Fitness Center
March 12, 2010
Contact: Bill Giduz
A determined Davidson College sophomore concerned about the environment has developed a project that will put to good use the energy that students expend in the Nisbet Fitness Center.
| Lexi Valauri-Orton in the Nisbet Fitness Center.
Instead of generating atmospheric heat in resisting the strides of students on elliptical trainers, new equipment secured by Lexi Valauri-Orton through grants from Davidson College and the Brita Products Company will translate that resistance into AC electricity for the Alvarez College Union's power grid. Three of the machines will be installed April 5-6, while many students are off campus for Easter break.
Valauri-Orton has nurtured a longtime interest in environmental action. Raised in Seattle, she volunteered at the city aquarium, and studied acidification of the oceans. She continued her environmental education at Davidson by enrolling in fall 2008 in an environmental studies class. The course required students to submit group proposals outlining means by which Davidson could reduce its carbon footprint.
One of the five students in Valauri-Orton's group had heard about a gym in Portland that used electricity-generating exercise equipment. When they called the owner for more information, he pointed them toward ReRev, a company that was modifying elliptical trainers to generate electricity. ReRev lists on its Web site 10 other colleges and universities where it has modified as many as 30 machines into energy generators.
Valauri-Orton's group calculated the amount of energy being used in lighting and television monitors in the fitness center, and wrote up a proposal to offset that usage with electricity-generating exercise machines. "It was all hypothetical at that point," Valauri-Orton said.
Though it wasn't part of the course, the group members decided to push their efforts a step further and file an application for a "Green Grant" from the college's sustainability office to see if they could bring the project to fruition. They applied in January 2009, and a month later received a $3,000 grant.
Things got a bit discouraging when they found out the actual costs of their dream. Further inquiries to ReRev revealed it would cost about $10,000 to retrofit three machines, not including their initial cost of $4,500 each. Having only about one-eighth of that money in hand, the group dissolved.
Valauri-Orton, however, wasn't ready to quit. She decided to look for other sources of funding, and eventually found out about the Brita Products Company's "Collegiate Filter for Good Eco-Challenge" grant program. It awards five grants of $10,000 each to undergraduates or graduate students who submit the best proposals about making their campuses more sustainable. Valauri-Orton submitted her proposal for exercise equipment, and was thrilled to be named as a contest winner. (View all the winners of the competition at http://www.filterforgood.com/)
The $13,000 total she had in hand, plus proceeds from an upcoming sale of sunglasses and further funding she's received from college sources, is enough for three new Precor elliptical trainers and their modification by ReRev as energy generators. The initial work will include one-time installation of infrastructure to support the whole system. Because of that, additional machines can be added in the future at a substantially lower cost per unit.
The company says a typical 30-minute workout produces 50 watt hours of electricity, which is enough to run a desktop computer for 30 minutes, a laptop for an hour, or 2-1/2 hours of light from a compact fluorescent bulb. Valauri-Orton has calculated that the three initial machines will generate the equivalent of the electricity used in lighting the entire 3,290-square-foot facility.
Kealy Devoy, the college's sustainability fellow, has been impressed by Valauri-Orton's doggedness. "We've had a lot of setbacks along the way, but she's kept in touch with me and put in the time, effort and legwork to find a way around the obstacles," said Devoy. "It's impressive. She believes it's something Davidson should do, and is willing to do what it takes to make it happen."
Valauri-Orton said students who have heard about the project are responding enthusiastically. She expects that installation of monitors along with the machines will reinforce the feeling, because they display real-time data on the amount of electricity being generated, the tally for the day, and the total since installation.
Though students will never generate the thousands of dollars worth of electricity it would take to entirely recoup the project costs, Valauri-Orton said the awareness it raises is worth the price.
"On the grand scale of the college, the amount of CO2 we'll cut isn't much, but the project should be great for awareness," she said. "I think one of the biggest barriers to environmental action is that it requires too much scientific understanding. These machines in the gym will make an environmental issue real and comprehensible in the context of students' daily lives. You've got to present people with easy ways to incorporate conservation into their lifestyles, and this accomplishes that."
Valauri-Orton is a biology major with an environmental studies concentration who also expresses her environmental concern as a member of the Environmental Action Coalition, and a resident of the Eco-House. Her post-graduate dreams include translating the science of environmental issues to the public in easily understandable ways.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,800 students located 20 minutes north of Charlotte in Davidson, N.C. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country. Through The Davidson Trust, the college became the first liberal arts institution in the nation to replace loans with grants in all financial aid packages, giving all students the opportunity to graduate debt-free. Davidson competes in NCAA athletics at the Division I level, and a longstanding Honor Code is central to student life at the college.