BackpackThe Trement Electric nPower PEG can harness kinetic energy to power small devices such as iPods or cellphones.Photo courtesy of Tremont Electric

When it comes to renewable energy, we hear plenty about the latest developments in solar and wind. But what about the latest developments in kinetic energy?

Kinetic energy is created through movement — like walking or running. It can be applied on a small scale, using the vibrations you create when you go hiking to power a cell phone or MP3 player. On a larger scale, it has the potential to take vibrations created by waves as they move through water and turn them into energy that powers homes and businesses.

Kinetic energy is at the heart of a new clean energy business in Cleveland, Ohio called Tremont Electric. Tremont plans to move kinetic energy into the American mainstream — and create local clean energy manufacturing jobs in the process.

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Tremont Electric was formed in 2007 by Aaron LeMieux. He was inspired to research kinetic technology after hiking on the Appalachian Trail and being forced to stop, repeatedly, in small towns to re-charge his CD player. After that experience, LeMieux began exploring whether he could develop a technology capable of transforming human-created kinetic energy into electrical energy that could power a hand-held device.

The result is the nPower PEG (personal energy generator), which LeMieux’s company, Tremont Electric, began selling the PEG in May. The device is the size of a glasses case. You can toss it into your backpack or briefcase and it will harvest the energy you generate as you walk. The PEG would also be handy for first responders who find themselves in emergency rescue situations when power isn’t available.

Tremont Electric started out in LeMieux’s kitchen, then moved to his basement, then to a storefront. When it began offering the nPower PEG on pre-order, it received more than 2,000 requests within just a few months. Now the company has nine full-time employees, and big plans for the future.

The company’s goal is to move into a manufacturing facility in Tremont and hire some 200 workers within the next two years. Tremont also has a strategy for creating additional job growth in its community by sourcing its parts from local suppliers.

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“More than 80 percent of our components are manufactured locally, so we’re fueling the local economy,” says Jessica Davis, Tremont Electric’s director of PR and sustainability. “We use local spring and circuit board manufacturers. The idea is to really grow Ohio and make us a capital of clean energy manufacturing.”

Northeast Ohio, where Tremont is located, could certainly use the jobs. According to Rebecca Bagley, president and CEO of the nonprofit economic development organization NorTech, the region’s unemployment rate is hovering at 13 percent.

“We’re in a transition,” says Bagley. “from an industrial economy where we were second in the world for headquarters of Fortune 500 companies, and now we’re at a tipping point — a lot of our manufacturing base has gone elsewhere, so how do we move forward?” 

Bagley and NorTech believe that clean energy could be the answer. NorTech’s analyses show that clean energy is one of just a few emerging economic sectors in northeast Ohio.

“We think there’s a significant opportunity,” says Bagley. “We have more than 400 companies in our cluster, and we have strong energy institutions. With advanced energy comes manufacturing jobs, and we have the capability to manufacture here in Ohio.”

Ohio Third Frontier is a state program that provides funding for various stages of research, development and deployment of technologies in particular emerging industry sectors, including advanced and alternative energy. Ohio voters recently reauthorized $700 million for Third Frontier.

Tremont has applied for a Third Frontier grant, not for its nPower PEG, but for its efforts to harvest the kinetic energy of waves. Tremont has partnered with Ohio State University and the University of Akron to evaluate the potential of wave energy in the Great Lakes and to test whether Tremont’s nPower technology could be used to capture that energy and send it back to the grid.

The project is still in the research and development phase, but Tremont founder LeMieux is confident that kinetic energy technology has a future.

“nPower technology is scalable and provides a range of product opportunities from small, implantable bioelectrical generators, to human-motion powered generators, to large commercial-scale wave energy converters,” says LeMieux. “nPower is not just a device-making technology, it is an industry-making technology.”