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These Playgrounds Generate Electricity at Recess

These Playgrounds Generate Electricity at Recess

Image source: emplay.squarespace.com

Playgrounds with merry-go-rounds that can convert the energy of playing children into electricity to light up their lives are making a difference in Ghana, thanks to the efforts of a nonprofit called Empowered Playgrounds.

In places with poor access to power, such as rural Ghana, schoolchildren have plenty of energy to play, but little to none for lighting their after school studying and other home activities. But a former VP of Engineering at ExxonMobil Research, Ben Markham, is helping to make their home lives and their education quite a bit brighter, in the form of merry-go-rounds that can generate electricity by harvesting the kinetic energy from the children’s playtime.

These Playgrounds Generate Electricity at Recess

Image source: http://emplay.squarespace.com/

The idea for the Empowered Playgrounds (EPI) merry-go-rounds came while Ben and his wife were in Ghana for missionary work, where they saw first-hand the energy poverty that affects children and their families there.

“Ben Markham and his wife moved to Ghana, Africa for eighteen months to volunteer. In rural villages, Ben observed the darkness of homes and school classrooms. He also saw the scarcity of play equipment in schoolyards. Touched by their happy smiles, Ben thought, “What if a portion of the playful energy from these children could be harnessed? What if that energy could become light for their classrooms and homes?” – EPI

After returning home, Ben enlisted help from faculty and students at Brigham Young University to come up with a solution, which ended up being in the form of playground equipment capable of generating electricity from the power of the children’s play. After being tested in the field in Ghana, the original design was converted to one that could be built using local materials, which cut down on costs and could help boost the local economy there.

“The EPI platform merry-go-round allows many children to ride while a few take turns pushing. The generation train starts with a hub bearing to which the entire deck of the merry-go-round is attached. A drive shaft from the hub connects to a helical gearbox operating as a speed-increaser. The high-speed output shaft then turns a permanent rare earth magnet windmill generator. The efficiency of this generator is over 70%.

The electricity generated by the merry-go-round and all other play equipment in the EPI system is carried by underground wires to a power enclosure, created by Goal Zero, where it is converted to direct current and used to charge a large AGM deep cycle battery (much like those found in golf carts).” – Empowered Playgrounds

The initial design of the merry-go-rounds was to simply generate and store the electricity in a battery bank, where it could be used for various applications. But EPI now has a sponsorship from Energizer, which donated the development of a “smart” LED lantern designed expressly for the EPI platform. Thanks to that sponsorship, EPI is now able to supply each participating school with up to 50 of these lanterns, and the children can take them home with them at night to provide lighting for the studying.

Find out more at Empowered Playgrounds.

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