Jul 16, 2008

Fun - Powering up the Electric Slide

Yes, it's a cheesy slogan: "all you have to do is dance to save the world." But Club4Climate's silly-sounding premise--that partygoers can groove their way to a greener planet--is based on real science. The environmental group, founded by British real estate mogul Andrew Charalambous, is set to open what is being touted as the world's first eco-club on July 10 in London. And as the dancers get pumped up, Club Surya will get powered up. Literally. The dance floor is designed to harness the energy of the people stomping on it based on a principle called piezoelectricity. Piezo, Greek for pressure, uses crystals or other materials that, when compressed, give off a small amount of voltage. So as clubbers dance on the spring-lined floor, the crystal blocks beneath it acquire a charge and generate a current that can charge nearby batteries.

Charalambous, the owner of Club Surya, calls the human body the "ultimate energy battery." His dance floor appears to be the first commercial application to use piezoelectricity on such a large scale--a separate group has been trying to work out the kinks for a similar eco-club in the Netherlands--but the technology isn't new. Piezoelectricity was used in early sonar devices in World War I and can be found in electric cigarette lighters and some gas grills.
Scientists, however, are skeptical of Charalambous' claims that the dance floor may be able to generate up to 60% of the club's electricity. "That level of power surprises me," says Eric Cross, an expert on piezoelectric materials at Penn State University. According to Cross, the required materials are stiff, but if enough people are moving at the same time, he surmises, it's possible that that much energy could be produced. The rest of the electricity at Surya--Sanskrit for "sun god"--will come from solar panels and wind turbines.
The club has lots of other eco-bells and -whistles. Dancers' perspiration will help turn heat-sensitive walls different colors. The toilets will be flushed with rainwater, and even the booze is pretty green: organic, fair-trade alcohol will be served, along with bio-beer, whose makers claim that the aloe vera in it helps increase vitamin uptake as well as reduce the harmful effects of alcohol on the liver. Also, Surya is offering free admission to clubbers who can prove they traveled there by foot, bicycle or public transportation. Of course, given the price of gas these days, it seems unlikely that many clubgoers will be arriving any other way.

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