Self-powered gym opens in Switzerland

Aug. 27, 2017

The new gym is powered by its fitness equipment and by a series of photovoltaic cells. Photo courtesy of Keystone

Swiss researchers have created a gym and wellness building run entirely on energy from the sun and fitness equipment, such as bikes and treadmills. 

The first-of-its-kind facility in the country, the gym is part of a larger innovation building project called NEST taking place at the Federal Laboratory for Materials Testing and Research (EMPA), reports website

The Solar Fitness and Wellness Unit, as the new building is officially known, has been in operation since Thursday at EMPA’s campus in Dübendorf, near Zurich. The building contains two saunas and a steam bath, workout equipment and locker rooms that will be used by staff from EMPA and fellow research institute Eawag (the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology). 

“Our objective is to be able to meet an energy-intensive need such as wellness entirely through renewable energy," said Peter Richner, deputy director of EMPA and strategic manager of NEST.

To meet that goal, the team behind the NEST fitness room had to massively reduce the traditionally high energy consumption of things like saunas, showers and gym equipment. Using a heat pump fueled by carbon dioxide, storing the heat it makes in one tank and distributing it to the various installations in an efficient way reduces consumption by two-thirds. 

Heat from the sauna is preserved and re-used as much as possible, and high-tech insulation within double glazed windows serves to keep the heat in.
"There is also a control system that responds to actual bookings of the wellness modules and only heats them up when necessary," said Mark Zimmermann, innovation manager for NEST. 

Photovoltaic cells strategically placed on the outside of the building and a solar thermal system for warm water contribute to the building’s energy needs, along with fitness equipment that generates electricity as it is used. 

The new fitness center sits atop the rest of the NEST innovation space, which is designed to be a “living lab” to research sustainable living options. The NEST buildings are fully functional, also offering apartments and office space that are currently in use.

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