- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2011

PORTLAND, ORE.

Reddening, a rivulet of sweat running across her cheek, Amy McCullough hunches over the stationary bike, pumps her legs like crazy and begins producing serious power - enough watts to run a flat-panel TV and a ceiling fan.

She thrusts her arms upward and exclaims: “Oh, 180!”

With that, her electrical output droops. The generator attached to her exercise machine slows, and the digital readout from the device on the handlebars falls below 100 watts.

The transient burst is a personal best for the 43-year-old legal aid lawyer who works out five days a week at a storefront fitness center in northern Portland where members on exercise machines fitted with compact generators can burn calories and generate electricity at the same time.

Their workouts satisfy a modicum of the electrical draw at the 3-year-old Green Microgym. More important, they satisfy a demand among its 200 members to be fit in a way that fits Portland’s green-indie-local ethos.

The 3,000-square-foot gym aims for a neighborhood trade. It features solar panels, recycled toilet paper, renewable-source flooring and lots of reminders on the wall about turning off lights, fans and TVs.

It has occurred to many exercisers during long stretches on machines that it would be cool to turn sweat into watts. In recent years, a few tinkerers and entrepreneurs have brought the idea to market.

So far, they have but a teensy sliver. The two leading startups sell equipment to retrofit existing bikes and elliptical trainers, and each reports hooking up about 1,000 machines. An executive of one company estimates that American fitness centers house 8 million to 10 million machines that could generate power.

They don’t, though. Like much in energy that is efficient or alternative, including plug-in cars and compact fluorescents, initial capital outlays are steep. Absent a subsidy or a quantifiable green-marketing rationale, the returns on investment don’t come quickly, if at all.

When Adam Boesel opened the Green Microgym in Portland’s artsy, gentrifying Alberta district, he figured on a market among people already educated about the environment.

The former teacher from Seattle looked at Portland, a city that, when cut, bleeds green. It’s regularly in top 10 lists for bicycle and mass-transit commuting, recycling, composting, energy-efficient buildings and so on.

“When I was researching Portland businesses, they all were talking about sustainability - all the good ones,” he says.

The machines, he says, are “just the shiny wrapper on a package, which is energy efficiency.”

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