After struggling through numerous setbacks, Cleveland, Ohio-based startup company Tremont Electric has finally seen some light at the end of the tunnel: The company’s flagship product, a personal kinetic energy charger about the size of a flashlight called the “nPower PEG,” is making its retail debut in REI stores throughout the U.S. this fall and online.
“This has been a long time coming,” said Tremont Electric CEO Aaron LeMieux in a telephone interview with TPM. “We got all of the bolts worked out in our system and we’re finally ready for prime time.”
LeMieux, an avid hiker, first came up with the idea for the nPower PEG about sixteen years ago on a hike when his mobile phone ran out of battery and he thought it would be nice if all the kinetic energy he’d spent walking could be converted into recharging power, turning him into a “human battery,” if you will.
The nPower PEG is the physical realization of LeMieux’s fanciful idea: A black cylinder 10.5 inches long and 14 ounces, it looks like a flashlight.
Users are supposed to buy one and stick it somewhere loose in their backpack, purse or bag, and as it bounces up and down when the user walks or rides a bike, a spring-mounted magnet on the inside moves back and forth and generates energy stored in a 2000 milliamp lithium ion polymer battery.
The amount of power the device generates depends on both how much kinetic energy a user gives it and exactly what devices a user is trying to charge. Tremont provides the following rough guide:
1 minute of walking = 1 minute of listening on an iPod Nano
11 minutes of walking = 1 minute of talk time during a 2G call on an iPhone
26 minutes of walking = 1 minute of talk time during a 3G call on an iPhone
The nPower PEG ships with adapter charging cords that fit over 3,000 devices, though the new iPhone 5’s “Lightning” cord isn’t yet included (but it will work through Apple’s own adapters).
The entire device was designed by Tremont and manufactured with help from local partners, the company told TPM, a point of pride and a sales pitch for its $199.95 price at REI.
“We’re able to maintain over ninety percent of our part component sourcing in state of Ohio,” LeMieux said. “How many other hardware companies can say that these days?”
Still, Tremont had a tough time raising money from investors and even went 18 weeks without making payroll for its small staff of eight full-time employees.
Tremont also ran into trouble with the first version of its product, which debuted in 2010. The company wanted to mass produce the device, but its former battery supplier couldn’t meet its previously agreed upon production quota, forcing Tremont to temporarily abandon its plans and look elsewhere for another partner capable of meeting its production goals.
But now that’s all been sorted out, and Tremont is sitting on inventory of about 1,000 units, according to LeMieux. And with its newly-minted partnership to sell through REI and even into Canada through another company, Valhalla Pure Outfitters, LeMieux is optimistic his dream of people being able to make their own “clean energy” on the go will come to fruition.
“We expect it to be a hot gift item this holiday season,” LeMieux said. “REI gives us a lot of external validation. Look, we are a clean energy startup in Ohio. We’re working on innovative technology right here in the industrial Midwest. We manufacture locally, ship internationally and we did it all while ‘Great Recession’ was going on. This election, with lots of candidates saying we need to do this need to do that for our economy, here’s clearly a case where we did what needed to do because we’re entrepreneurs.”
Correction: This article originally incorrectly stated that Tremont Electric was selling its nPower PEG device for $169.99 on its own website, but that was based on outdated information. The article also originally incorrectly stated that Valhalla Pure was a reseller of REI, which is false. The article has since been corrected in copy and we regret the errors.