"If the planet’s 1.3 billion cattle used treadmills for eight hours a day, they would provide 6 percent of the world’s power." So says William Taylor, a farmer in Northern Ireland who rigged a treadmill to generate electricity during use. And, yes, it's his cows that get their exercise on them.
Instead of letting the cows graze in a field or huddle on a crowded pen, the inventive farmer thinks they should all be jogging on contraptions like the Livestock Power Mill, a modified treadmill that uses the animals' walking movements to produce usable power. Whether the whole implementation is humane should be up for debate, but one thing can't be disputed: it does work. According to Taylor, his prototype setup currently generates two kilowatts of power - enough to run four milking machines on the farm.
The current rig uses a manual treadmill set up at an incline. If the bovine doesn't walk, it falls off slowly, essentially forcing it to keep a decent pace. To help entice the animal, he puts a feed box right in front. Once it begins walking, the gearbox spins, which then runs the generator.
Taylor estimates that a small farm of 50 cows should be able to produce enough electricity to save around $100,000 in three years. He's also planning to study potential health benefits of the "forced exercise" on cows at a later time. The Livestock Power Mill is just a single-machine prototype for now, but if it's cheap enough to produce, it could be the start of something PETA can violently rile against. Cows - first they give us milk, then electricity, then burgers too. Awesome beasts of burden, those guys.