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Lucien Gambarota: Alternative energy pioneer

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(CNN) -- As concern for the environment grows, people are starting to take small steps to do their part -- such as driving a hybrid car or installing solar panels.

One Hong Kong inventor is taking renewable energy a step further, developing technologies to generate electricity while you workout, and even figuring out how to create a wind farm on your balcony or roof.

Lucien Gambarota's micro-wind turbines are a fraction of the size of the traditional towers and need wind speeds of just 2 meters per second to generate relatively cheap, efficient electricity.

"To date, renewable energy generators have been too expensive and too complex to be used by individual consumers," says the founder and president of Motorwave Limited.

"Our philosophy is to make renewable energy accessible in terms of price and technology, so that every citizen can potentially play a role to improve our environment."

Conventional small wind turbines only work 20 percent to 40 percent of the time due to variations in wind speed, according to the Department of Mechanical Engineering of The University of Hong Kong and Motorwave.

The micro-wind turbines, by comparison, can operate 80 percent in most wind conditions, according to the department.

The electricity generated by a micro-wind turbine is transmitted and stored in a battery before being used to drive home electrical appliances such as lights, LCD monitors and TV sets. To help power a small apartment would take a set of about 60 micro-turbines, costing about US$100 dollars.

According to Motorwave, the new technology can reduce energy bills by up to 50 percent and costs between 10 and 20 per cent of current small wind turbine systems to run.

Gambarota started looking at ways to generate his own power after receiving his only hefty summer electricity bill.

"A thousand US ... for one month! I don't have a castle, I have just a flat.... and I started thinking," he says.

The design includes 26 centimeters-round compact plastic gear wheels and a small generator. The micro-wind turbine can be arranged in a range of shapes and sizes, from two to thousands of square meters.

They can be located where conventional small wind turbines would not be possible let a lone allowed -- such as the numerous balconies and sky scraper roofs in cities like Hong Kong.

Dr. Dennis Leung, assistant professor at Hong Kong University's Department of Mechanical Engineering, says the innovative design will enable people to harness wind power and reducing greenhouse gases at an affordable price.

"How to reduce the emissions from pollution sources is of paramount importance for improving our ever deteriorating air quality," he says.

Gambarota's research into green energy extends beyond relying on wind. He has also worked on wave-powered dynamo which he claimed could produce enough energy to pump and collect water for hydroelectric turbine.

Then there is the energy generated by exercise bikes and treadmills in gyms where the human-driven power is generated and stores in batteries

"What we are finding is that when people know that he way that they're exercising here is actually producing electricity and helping the environment, it is one additional motivation for the workout," says California Fitness President Steve Clinefelter.

Gambarota's ideas may represent only a tiny amount of electricity in the overall picture. But creating low-cost green power technology that nearly anyone can use is well worth the sweat, he says.

CNN's James MacDonald and journalist Bina Brown contributed to this report.


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