Mpls. leader imagines pedal powered peanut butter plant

Whether it’s mandating free earplugs at First Avenue, making skyway bridges less deadly for birds or agonizing over the proper number of sailboats to include in the city logo, the Minneapolis City Council has a penchant for taking municipal government into previously unexplored territory.

peanut butter bicyclesTrue to that tradition, first-term Council Member Alondra Cano has an idea for creating jobs and helping the environment: “Wouldn’t it be wonderful,” she mused during an interview about an industrial site in her ward, “if we had a peanut butter factory here that was manufactured through bicycle power.”

A what?

“If people want to go to the Y and exercise, well why aren’t all those bicycles and all those treadmills connected to a grid of energy where we’re ourselves generating our own electricity instead of trying to get it from somewhere else?” she asked.

One reason is that bicycles don’t generate much electricity.

Manufacturers of pedal power devices claim they crank out anywhere between 75 and 300 watts — more than sufficient to make a light bulb glow, but hardly enough to dent the average American’s electric bill, let alone run an industrial peanut grinder.

“The machines I use have a lot of RPMs [revolutions per minute] and require that, otherwise the peanuts will just kind of become granules, like what you put on a sundae,” said Andrew Kincheloe, owner of Buddy’s Small Batch Nut Butters, which is based in Minneapolis.

Kincheloe whips up close to 90,000 jars of peanut butter a year using a Robot Coupe Vertical Food Processor that requires up to 9,600 watts of power — or somewhere between 32 and 128 cyclists.

“You would need some ironmen bikers, I’m guessing,” Kincheloe said.

It’s also questionable whether pedal power would actually be better for the environment than a traditional electric plant, because producing and shipping the food to fuel the riders creates carbon dioxide, too.

Cano suggested pedal-based peanut butter as a possible alternative to a facility the city’s water department wants to build in her ward. She opposes that proposal, which goes before the Minneapolis Planning Commission next week.

She says the site, which is currently home to a roofing material warehouse, could be put to much better use.

“We have to really unleash our imagination and not be afraid to experiment with new models,” she said.

Cano on thinking imaginatively about economic development and the idea of a bicycle powered peanut butter plant:

  • Matthew

    My favorite way to debunk human-powered energy schemes is to look at the raw inputs. Even if human metabolism and muscles and a bike were 100% efficient at converting food energy into usable work, 3000 food calories of input only equals 3.48 kWh of energy, worth about 40 cents in Minnesota. The number only drops once you factor in realistic energy conversion efficiency numbers.

    • Jeff

      Continuing your analysis… there’s 94 Calories/Tbsp in peanut butter, so it works out 2 cups of peanut butter a day to power the human. Doing the math, the article claims each human can produce between 1.9-7.7 jars/day (not sure what size). So at the low end, it’s about break even for energy. But this ignores the economics, I’m sure there’s a cheaper way to fuel the humans.

  • MrE85

    You never see this kind of leadership from conservatives….

    • Gary F

      Because they have left the city.

      Why not just create a business friendly atmosphere so business wouldn’t leave?

      • Joe

        I think the over 40,000 companies based in Minneapolis refute that claim. The city is growing, in population and business.

      • Chris

        Businesses are leaving Minneapolis? That is news to anyone who lives here. If you would like to look into why “conservatives” have generally left the cities, I don’t think you would find the reasons would be too flattering to “conservatives”.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    While the human powered part of the idea might be difficult to achieve one can hope that the use of alternative power sources might be considered. What if solar power and wind power were used to reduce the electrical needs from the traditional grid? While it doesn’t create jobs for armies of pedal power providers it would be an environmentally friendlier plant.

    • Both solar and wind are terrifically expensive.

      • BJ

        What they are is terrible for providing stable constant power. Better batteries will make them much better values. Storing the extra power when they are running will reduce the need for still having coal or gas power to backup those sources.

        • That just makes the finances of wind and solar MUCH worse. Battery technology is a long ways from viability. Decades or never.

          • BJ

            Not true in the least. Tesla has already started selling batteries for home and business that will pay for themselves in 2-3 years. With price of energy so cheap that is a major accomplishment, and one that will be the next revolution. Think changes in world happen fast with micro processor, just wait for battery technology to get that same treatment. Tons of research is being done on battery and energy storage, and lots of small scale success.

          • Battery technology has not proceeded nearly as far as you claim. The cost is FAR higher than you realize. The capex for a typical US home to disconnect from the grid is $15K just for the batteries.

          • BJ

            Never suggested disconnect from the grid. Solar or wind to battery is very inefficient still. Tesla battery is grid to battery, buying at lower off peak rate.

            Also never suggested that has proceeded that far, my quote was ‘just wait for battery technology to get that same treatment’ and ‘lots of small scale success’. I was suggesting that battery revolution is coming, when it does it will change our world more than the micro processor.

          • Battery technology is still at least an order of magnitude too expensive. If you don’t want to disconnect from the grid, then the costs of staying connected need to be covered and they are substantial. Today, they are billed according to kwh usage, but with the increasing amounts of behind the meter generation, that will/must change.

          • Folks, I’m getting tired of saying the same thing. Commenters must post under a real name. And thank you.

          • I see LOTS of people posting under names other than their own. BJ, Jim G, John. Why am I being singled out for criticism?

          • You’re not being singled out. I post this message about 5 times a day for most of my adult life, it seems. And it always notes that first names are fine.

            Also we’re not going to have a discussion on the “why” of the rule. It’s the rule. It’s one reason why the NewsCut comment section is better than most websites.

          • I am not questioning the ‘why’. If you are going to have a rule, you should be consistent. I have edited my profile to include my full name. Is that now sufficient?

          • I’m pretty consistent and I deal with them one at a time, which gets wasted in protracted explanations. So, no, it’s not sufficient.

            If you don’t want to change your username, sign your posts. Simple.

  • Jim G

    Creative thinkers are needed to jump-start the imaginations of those schooled in math and science fields. Brainstorming can produce out of the box thinking that can lead to breakthroughs. Just make sure that the science works and your math is correct.

    • John

      Your implication that math and science fields are not full of creative people tells me that you don’t know anyone in those fields.

  • Joe

    “It’s also questionable whether pedal power would actually be better for
    the environment than a traditional electric plant, because producing and
    shipping the food to fuel the riders creates carbon dioxide, too.”

    Except she explicitly frames the idea as people at the Y who are already pedaling, thus requiring the exact same amount of food shipped to them whether they create the electricity or not.

    • BJ

      But what about putting the generators in gyms where people are exercycling or using ellipticals anyway? Okay, let’s take a look at the numbers: Texas State University put generators on 30 elliptical machines at a cost of $20,000. (source – If we generously assume that each machine is used 1/3 of the time over a 12-hour period, that’s 30 machines x 1/3 utilized x 12 hours x 100 wH/hr x 1 kWh/1000 wH x 360 days/year = 4320 kWh/year, which is not enough to power even one typical American house for the same period of time. And cost-wise, the energy saved at 12¢ per kWh is worth $518 per year, so the payback time is close to 40 years, not counting maintenance or opportunity cost. Yeah, it’s green energy, because otherwise the exercisers’ energy is wasted, but the far easier solution is to just stop using ridiculous amounts of energy in the first place. A single family can easily save more energy by making some modest changes than the entire fleet of ellipticals at TSU can produce. The website sourced below gives ideas to better save energy.

      • Joe

        Yeah I’m not saying its a wise investment. I’m just saying Bob’s statement that it would be less green is demonstrably false.

        • Curtis

        • BJ

          Actually – less green is demonstrably true.

          “Since it takes about 1 calorie to produce 1 watt-hour of electricity, your month of pedaling would require 3000 calories. With the cheapest food you can buy, oil or flour, you’re looking at $0.85 to create $0.36 of electricity. So instead of saving money, it’s costing you money to run your generator. Other foods are even worse: Figure $5.41 for Cheerios, $6.15 for bananas, or $22.22 for Big Macs.” – source

          OK now…

          “The pollution caused to produce the food for your cycling is more than the pollution caused by getting the energy from the grid. 3000 extra calories from what a typical American eats will make 30 lbs. of CO2e, or 15 lbs. for a vegan. By comparison, the energy from the power plant makes only about 5 lbs. of CO2e to generate the same amount of electricity.” – source

          • Joe

            The vast majority of us consume a similar amount of food whether we exercise that day or not. So we don’t need extra food. According to this study (, energy expenditure is very similar whether you exercise or not and is mostly physiological. Hence the cycling power itself doesn’t “create” any greenhouse gases.

            I still agree it isn’t an efficient investment, but I don’t think anyone ever claimed it was.

          • BJ

            >energy expenditure is very similar whether you exercise or not and is mostly physiological.

            The source you gave is a bad link so I can’t read it.

            But –
            Exercise or don’t – expends the same energy? That isn’t even close to being true. If you add to your routine walk/jog/run (or bike) at slightly more than moderate pace – for average person running above 3.7 miles per hour – you expend a lot more that walking at easy pace (1.25- 2 miles per hour). To maintain body mass and density you would need to increase your calorie intake.

            So lets forget about that.

            Now if you are saying that people would just use this equipment instead of other equipment. THAT is the argument, that wins this, sort of. No increase or decrease in food consumption – check.

            Does that mean we will find enough people in the area – that are already biking – to go to the gym next to the peanut butter factory to power the peanut butter factory?

  • I wish this was a parody.

  • Mike

    I see Curtis’s style is laying the groundwork: yes, let us make fun of that kooky moron for suggesting such an impossible idea! … or maybe she said it partially in jest hoping that somebody might have a fresh, workable idea for a project in her ward. I wish my city council had some outside-the-box thinkers.

  • rosswilliams

    The real question is how Curtis came up with a response that was even more absurd/stupid
    than the original suggestion.

    Oh. And why is MPR wasting our time with either one

    • It was a simple fact check on something a public official said. And it seems like a lot of people are curious about whether exercise bikes are a feasible source of energy. So it doesn’t seem like a waste of time to me.

      • rosswilliams

        Oh BS. It wasn’t a “fact check”, it was a snark. And I am sure some people were entertained by it, so you achieved your purpose.

        Your advertisers of course don’t care as long as it gives them an audience. But it surprises me is that people are willing to give MPR money to pay you to research the viability of manufacturing peanut butter with exercise machines.

        • You know, sometimes life is just interesting, full of interesting people and quirky ideas. Yes, there are big weighty issues that people want to wring their hands over, and those stories are covered at MPR and they’re covered very well.
          If this particular story doesn’t do much for you, then just ignore it. But, yeah, we’re going to continue to provide the quirky among us too.

          If that’s not the sort of thing you don’t want to read, all you have to do is make the choice not to read it.

          • rosswilliams

            “If that’s not the sort of thing you don’t want to read, all you have to do is make the choice not to read it.”

            Actually there is more to it than that, because there are plenty of stories where people really do need more and better information that you aren’t covering as well as a result of resources wasted on this “quirky” snark that served no purpose. Of course you are in the entertainment/advertising business, not the information business.

            And, of course, your entertainment drowns out discussion of important stories by stealing people’s attention. People love the class clowns.

            If you spent half as much time investigating and reporting, for instance, why MNDOT really lacks the money to properly maintain roads we would all be better informed. Instead you consider repeating charges and counter-charges as “covering” the topic.

          • Thanks for your input, Ross. I’ll pass it along.

          • Paul

            One would imagine, if that were the case, a news outlet that caters to one’s needs would be sought.

          • rosswilliams

            Paul –

            As an abstraction, that is a good idea. But where does one find this “news outlet” that is not in the entertainment/advertising business? For all practical purposes they don’t exist.

            You don’t know a story is a waste of time, until you have wasted your time reading/listening to it. Our only real choice is to wade through enormous amounts of chaff to find any substance of wheat. Given the effort required, its no surprise that many people rely on a lot of misinformation from whatever sources affirm their own beliefs.

      • Janelle

        I think it was said in the exercise of “Here’s a crazy idea. I encourage others to come up with crazy ideas and maybe we’ll hit on something.” In other words: brainstorming. You even used her quote in the piece, “We have to unleash our imagination.”

        If we’re going to nitpick everything anyone says regardless of how serious they were, I agree with the above commenter that your comment that it would be less green since people eat food is wrong.