Pedal power: Letting cyclists harness kinetic energy to power devices

The Chicago business that eliminates the need to carry batteries on bikes to power electronics is experiencing increased interest during the pandemic.

Today’s headlines:

🛢️ REMEDIATION: Northwestern University researchers have developed a highly porous smart sponge that could be used to efficiently and cost-effectively clean up oil spills. The sponge specifically targets the oil and can absorb more than 30 times its weight. Oil is removed by squeezing the sponge, which can be reused dozens of times without losing its effectiveness. (Northwestern University)

🤝 ACCELERATOR: Clean Energy Trust has chosen its first university accelerator cohort to support student entrepreneurs in the mid-continent region who are working on cleantech solutions. Student teams from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio and Northwestern University in Illinois are among the five participants. (Clean Energy Trust)

Now, more on PedalCell, a startup that created a device to harness cyclists’ motion to power electronic devices in real time, instead of relying on batteries or generators. The business is experiencing more customer demand during the pandemic, which could be tied to the well-documented boom in cycling as people look for ways to maintain social distancing while getting around. Chicago and Columbia, Missouri, are among the many cities where bike sales are surging.

The problem: “Solving the power problem is the biggest problem with cycling technology. … The idea of having a bike light, bike lock, tracking device, or keeping power on a bicycle is extremely difficult, unlike in a car or office,” said Adam Hokin, co-founder of PedalCell. Batteries need to be charged, don’t fit well on bikes, and die quickly when exposed to the outdoors. “Batteries are good at storing power, but we didn’t need to store power. We needed more real-time energy management and generation,” Hokin said. Bike generators have been on the market for years but have a low power output, are costly, take a long time to install, and generally are permanent once installed.

The technology: “We developed a solution over four years that combines a custom designed generator with proprietary firmware and patented electronics,” Hokin said. Users plug their electronic devices into two USB ports on a unit that affixes to bike handlebars. The patented system is powered by a generator that touches a wheel rim and produces controlled charging currents as the wheel spins.

The impact: The device provides a continuous, sustainable power source at a fraction of the price of competing power units. It is easy and quick to install and can be transferred between bikes. PedalCell systems provides about six times more sustainable power than competing products, Hokin said.

The backstory: Hokin met his business partner and co-founder, Vishaal Mali, when he was a freshman at the University of Michigan and Mali was a high school senior. They both questioned why more people didn’t use bikes for transportation and identified the power problem as one culprit. PedalCell officially launched in 2015 and the first product was sold in 2017.

What’s next: PedalCell has experienced a surge in demand because of the pandemic, but the global supply chain issues have slowed the ability to get products to customers. But Hokin said it has forced them to “get creative” and product flow should improve soon. The partners are looking at different avenues of distribution such as new retailers and B2B sales. “When we look to the future it’s exciting, and we’re looking at different business models,” Hokin said.

Do you know of a Midwest business whose products solve problems and improve sustainability? Let me know so I can include them in a future newsletter. Email katie@centered.tech or connect on Twitter @centereddottech.

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