A Peruvian scientist invented a system based on a stationary bicycle that can produce enough power to light up a house for nearly a whole day. The invention may have wide application to provide electric power for lighting and heating in remote locations.
The device is called "Kallpa Runa", which in Quechua (a native language spoken primarily in the central Andean region of South America), means "human power". It consists on using the mechanical traction of a stationary bike along with a novel system of copper bovines and neodymium magnets. The Chinese neodymium magnets (also known as NdFeB, or Neo magnet) are made from an alloy of three metals, neodymium, iron, and boron. They are the strongest type of magnet ever made.
The system requires about half an hour of pedaling at a moderate speed to generate electricity which may be used directly or stored in a large battery. A circuit inverter transforms 12V-DC to 220V-AC. Depending on the domestic power requirements (number of lamps and use of other equipment), if the battery remains "full", the electricity supply could be maintained without problems for a few days or even continuously.
The inventor is José Cordova, a Peruvian national. He patented the system in the United States and has started the process to obtain patents in Peru and Chile. He reported having received offers from USA, Korean and Chilean investors. However, he intends to keep the system as a distinctly Peruvian invention.
Dr. José Córdova, molecular biologist and inventor, in his lab.
José Córdova did his undergraduate studies at The National University of San Marcos in Lima, Perú, obtained an MSc at Cayetano Heredia University (Lima), and following a stint at Harvard Medical School, he gained his PhD in Molecular Biology at Yale University, USA (1998). Córdova worked several years in Santiago de Chile where he conducted research on cell biology, biotechnology, molecular parasitology, vaccines and treatments for fish diseases, harmful algal blooms and marine toxins. A couple of years ago he returned to Perú and has continued his research on biotechnology issues while always keeping a keen interest on inventions and technological innovation.
A few weeks ago, Digital Journal reported on a remarkable invention of a novel molecule called "Keep 32” which can prevent tooth decay by killing quickly (within 60 seconds) a harmful bacterium that lives in the mouth. Dr. José Cordova is the inventor of the synthetic molecule Keep 32. He has also recently patented a technique he calls ANCHOMIX, a bleaching process capable of eliminating the strong odor and taste of anchovy fillets facilitating daily consumption of healthy omega-3-loaded fish.
Digital Journal interviewed Dr. Córdova particularly on the subject of his most recent invention, the Kallpa Runa (KR) system to generate electricity using human leg muscle power.
Digital Journal: Being a molecular biologist, how did you happen to become interested on inventing a system to generate electricity?
José Córdova: The idea emerged during a blackout. There is no worse feeling of uncertainty than a power failure at night. It creates chaos and frustration almost immediately. The whole family suffers because its nightly activities are disrupted. That motivated me to seek a viable way to generate my own electricity. When I heard that solar storms were on the raise and could disturb power grids for many hours, I became determined to somehow become self-sufficient. I know, there are solar panels, wind and water turbines, but there are many places on Earth where those solutions are complex, expensive or unviable. I decided to apply my knowledge about biology (“all life processes involve energy transfer”) and one of the most basic laws of physics (“the conversion of energy from one form to another”). I learned more about electromagnetism, the use of magnets and coils, and invented a system that is simple, safe and efficient. This is also based on the concept “I will use the power I can generate”. How green can you get?
Applications and advantagesDJ: What practical applications can you see in this invention?
JC: Our system allows multiple applications. It can be used to generate power for everyday use, lighting and heating, and to operate household appliances in remote locations where power lines cannot reach, such as the mountains or the jungle; in schools, where students can take turns to carry out cardiovascular exercise while they generate electricity for their use; it can also be used in prisons to provide physical activity and a work alternative to inmates by generating a product they can sell to nearby businesses, thus helping them to reintegrate to society.
DJ: What are the advantages of this power-generating system compared with other alternatives, such as solar or wind sources?
A heater can also be operated using electricity stored in a truck battery. (Courtesy of J. Córdova).
JC: The Kallpa Runa system can generate electricity on-demand. It is not dependent on climate conditions, the time of day or a geographic location; it’s totally independent; all you need is the equipment and a pair of legs. This system can produce 25 Amperes while 1.2 sq. meter of solar panel can produce only 1 Ampere, thus, to produce enough power for household use, multiple photovoltaic modules, about 30 sq. meters, would be needed.
The KR system is relatively simple and requires minimum maintenance; a larger photovoltaic system used for residential or industrial applications demands highly specialized service and maintenance. But, perhaps one of the best advantages is that the KR system can do wonders for one’s fitness and health, while a solar panel or eolic systems (wind turbines) will do nothing for your heart.
Economic and social benefitsDJ: Do you have an estimate of the approximate cost that could have the commercial production of the device?
JC: Obviously the cost will depend on the capacity of the system and the number of units produced. We are working on the development of a more powerful version capable of generating 100 Amperes. This could supply a regular household with enough electricity for as long as three days before you have to go back pedaling. When you consider that about one quarter of the world population and close to 80% of people living in Third World countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America lack electricity, and must rely on wood or charcoal as energy sources, we believe there is a vast market potential for a device such as Kallpa Runa. It could be ideal for all rural areas of the world.
DJ: Has the Peruvian government shown interest and provided support for your invention?
JC: Yes, we met with Ambassador Miguel Palomino de la Gala, Director of Science and Technology of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry. Mr. Palomino expressed interest in the invention because it can impact on the livelihood of people living on remote communities by providing electricity and heating, and also by increasing access to communications and information technology. The director told us he plans to report on the invention at a meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), to be held next year in Perú.
Gov't of Peru.
Ambassador Miguel Palomino de la Gala, Director of Science and Technology of the Peruvian Foreign Ministry, meets Dr. Córdova to learn about the Kallpa Runa invention.
DJ: What challenges do you see for future expansion of this technology?
JC: I would say that the challenge now is to develop domestic equipment and appliances operating at 12 volts that will make using the electricity generated by "Kallpa Runa" simpler, more efficient and safer. This may facilitate redirecting the power from major generating plants (thermal, hydroelectric or nuclear) to industrial uses, thus making more efficient use of electricity production.