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One of the more frequent search terms leading to the Pedal Powered Prime Mover page is "pedal powered washing machine." Is it possible to power your washing machine from pedal power?

YES

But the score as of August 26, 2007 is:

  • Washing Machine: 1
  • David: 0

If you watch the movie, you will see a compressed, 13 minute version of a 40 minute ride, with a tough spin at the end that took more energy than I could muster. The high-pitched tone you hear just before I speed up is the low-voltage alarm on the inverter - a signal that the washer is calling for more power!

While the washer had successfully completed the "washing" part of the cycle, I was unable to complete the final spin cycle. My peak Watt output was 135. I had to sustain it for several minutes during the rinse. The entire ride produced 41.5 Watt hours. That is roughly what I generate in my daily workout. The problem was that the daily workout is a steady pace with around 100 Watts peak, and this was an entirely different challenge. Rest assured, there will be a rematch.

News: There was indeed a rematch in early January 2008, with a slightly different electrical configuration, and this time, the outcome was different ;-) Check back in a few weeks for Round 2!

Here is the setup I used:

  • PPPM (of course!) Show me the circuit!
  • Sears Kenmore Front Loading Washer Model 417-440422400
  • Xantrex 1000 Watt 12 Volt DC to 110 Volt AC Inverter
  • Maxwell 58 Farad 15 Volt Ultracapacitor
  • The Power Board I assembled for demonstration purposes
  • A 75 foot 110 Volt extension cord, and a 25 foot 12 Volt DC extension cord (Both bad ideas! Next time, these will not be used. Approximately 10 Watts was lost just in the 12 Volt portion during peak power production.)
  • A Watt's Up meter to monitor my output: Search for "battery analyzer"
  • A medium-small load - two bath towels, a wash cloth and a dish towel.
  • Delicate Cycle, Slow Spin (give me a break, it was a test! I'll try harder settings later...)

For this test, I did not have a battery in the circuit. I figured the Ultracapacitor would help me with the peak loads (it definitely did!) and that I would just "push harder" if there were peak power needs. And oh yes, I had to push very hard!

The ride started out easy enough. "Washing" the items was not a problem. The trouble started when the pumping and spinning began. I was up to my maximum output pretty quickly, and the low voltage alarm began to sound on the inverter. By pushing hard, I was able to keep up with the washer until the final spin began, and then I fell behind. (See the tests below for an idea of how much power the washer wants to start the spin cycle).

But I have not given up!

I think I will have to use a small battery to help me with the peak power needs. I may not be able to generate enough power at my age and physical condition to beat the machine using only the Ultracapacitor. I don't mind getting some help from a little more technology. I'm also trying to get in better shape, but this was a tough match. I may need a LOT of technology help ;-) I'm hoping to win the next one.



Before I tried to power the washer, I needed to know if it was even remotely possible for a Human Being to make enough power to run the machine. In 2006, I decided run some tests with our washing machine to find out.

We have a Year 2004 Kenmore front-load washer. We picked it partly because it is supposed to be a VERY energy-efficient washer, for a conventional washer. Here are the specs:

  • Model 417-440422400
  • 120 Volts
  • 60 Cycles AC
  • 12 Amps (!!!)

12 Amps??? That is 12 * 120 = 1,440 Watts! That's almost 2 horsepower! Can that be true? Fortunately, it is NOT what the washer truly draws. I used a "Watts Up" power meter to monitor a load of colors (heavier than a load of whites) and this is what I discovered:

Portion of Wash Cycle Time
(mm:ss)
Watts
Power On 00:02 120
First Water Fill 01:00 13
Idle After Fill, Before Tumble 01:10 11
Tumble Wash (50% Duty Cycle Due to Reversals) 08:00 235-120
First Pump-Out 09:00 80-50
First Rinse Pump/Tumble 10:00 250-80
First Rinse Spin (Lasts Only 5 Seconds) 18:00 750-500
Slow Spin With Rinse 19:00 200
First Rinse Pump Out 23:00 120-50
Second Rinse Spin (5 Secs) 29:00 820-500
Total Watt-hours So Far: 50 Wh
Second Tumble Wash 31:00 235-120
Second Pump-Out 32:00 80-50
Second Rinse Pump/Tumble 33:00 230-80
Third Rinse Spin (5 Secs) 34:00 820-500
Slow Spin With Rinse 34:00 200
Third Pump-Out 34:00 120-60
Third Rinse Spin (5 Secs) 38:00 700-200
Total Watt-hours So Far: 64.5 Wh
Final Water Fill 39:00 15
Final Rinse Pump/Tumble 41:00 230-80
Final Pump 51:00 90-50
Final Rinse Spin (5 Secs) 52:00 750-200
Initial Phase Final Spin 53:00 200
Final Spin (Accelerating) 55:00 200-600
Final High-Speed Spin 57:00 670
Total Watt-hours: 140 Wh

Conclusion: One person could pedal this machine all the way through the wash. They could not power the spin directly from the Pedal Generator - it just requires too much power. However, with the help of a battery, it would be possible to pedal this washer. In my physical condition, I would have to pedal for about 1 hour and 45 minutes to generate enough power to wash one load.

With two people pedaling, 45 minutes of pedaling would do a load. Of course, they might do more laundry too to keep up with the new workouts!

And what about drying clothes with pedal power? While it would be unthinkable to power the heating portion of a clothes dryer with pedal power (3.5KW = 35 Pedal Generators) it would be entirely possible for one or two pedalers to provide the tumbling action and air circulation needed to power a Solar Heated, Pedal Powered Clothes Dryer! A solar "hot air" collector twelve feet long and four feet wide would provide roughly the same amount of hot air as an electric dryer element. Drawing heated air from your attic during warm weather would accomplish the same thing AND help cool your house a little. With pedal power blowing that air past the clothes and tumbling them, you could expect similar drying times to a conventional clothes dryer.

So is it possible to wash and dry clothes using pedal power or pedal+solar power? Yes. Is it practical? You do the math. Multiply your number of loads per week times 1 hour and 45 minutes wash, and another 45 minutes to dry. Don't forget the side benefit: you will be in the best shape of your life after a few months. That's priceless.

Attention Large Corporations with Deep Pockets Looking for a "Change The World" Green Project: Get me out of my 9-5 and let's get to work! I have a design for a "community washing machine" that would work anywhere in the world ready to build - sponsor me!

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