SolePower makes shoe inserts that provide clean, renewable energy.
How can you help save the environment and charge your mobile phone at the same time? It’s simple: just go for a walk.
The mechanical engineers behind SolePower, an entrepreneurial venture based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have developed an insole that harvests the kinetic energy generated by walking. Each time a walker’s heel hits the ground, the motion activates a rotary electromagnetic generator inside the insole. The generator spins as fast as it can, for as long as it can, and the power it creates is stored in an external lithium battery pack. Walkers can use this power to charge their electronic devices whenever they want.
The shoe inserts have been named EnSoles, short for Energy Insoles, and fit into a variety of shoes. SolePower expects to launch EnSoles’ online sales this year, pending positive product tests and the establishment of distribution channels, says Davit Davitian, who works in business development at SolePower.
“We see the launch of our EnSoles as the first step toward growing into a company with a worldwide-recognized brand and a variety of innovative products that help solve daily problems for people in all parts of the world,” says Davitian.
One of the solutions SolePower hopes to provide is an “on-the-go power source” for “current and future mobile devices,” says Davitian. The company also aims, in the long run, to bring energy to people in need and reduce pollution around the globe.
“The biggest environmental impact the SolePower EnSoles can have is through their potential to provide clean, renewable power for LED lights to those living without electricity in developing regions,” says Davitian. “SolePower’s energy harvesting technology can be embedded in low cost sandals which, after one day of walking, can power an efficient LED light for the whole night.”
The ability to fuel these LEDs is crucial for the environment. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, 250 to 500 million households worldwide depend on fuel-based lamps, with kerosene as the predominant fuel, which releases black carbon into the atmosphere and causes global warming.
“One kilogram of black carbon, a byproduct of incomplete combustion, produces as much warming in one month as 700 kilograms of carbon dioxide does over 100 years. However, when the source of black carbon is removed, the warming it causes drops rapidly, unlike greenhouse gases,” says Davitian.
SolePower’s environmental contributions will depend on the reach—and walking endurance—of its customers. Upon completion of product trials, the company plans to market EnSoles first to outdoor enthusiasts. In the United States, this demographic includes about 35 million hikers, backpackers and campers, who travel into the wilderness with no access to power other than the batteries they bring with them. After building its brand with this niche consumer group, SolePower hopes to focus on general consumers and global markets.
SolePower originated out of a class project at Carnegie Mellon University in 2011. Hahna Alexander, co-founder and chief technology officer, and Matthew Stanton, co-founder and chief executive officer, were part of a group instructed to develop a product that would benefit their fellow students. The group designed an energy-harvesting shoe that powered embedded LED lights, enabling wearers to travel safely in the dark. When the class ended, Alexander and Stanton expanded on the prototype and built a company around it. They ran a successful Kickstarter campaign in 2013 and partnered with Carnegie Mellon’s Project Olympus, along with AlphaLab, a Pittsburgh-based startup accelerator program, to raise the funds necessary to develop EnSoles.
As EnSoles near their mass-market debut, Davitian, who learned about SolePower through AlphaLab, is excited to help the business “expand the scope of energy harvesting by making human power a practical method of generating electricity.”
But, the real fun will be seeing how that human-generated energy changes lives and helps clean up the planet.
Carrie Loewenthal Massey is a New York City-based freelance writer.