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Motion-powered gadget charger back on track

The makers of the nPower Personal Energy Generator, which charges small electronics from the motion of walking, will take another crack at the portable charging market.

NEW YORK--The idea of harvesting the energy from motion to charge gadgets looks like it's ready to take a step forward.

Tremont Electric plans to start taking new orders for its kinetic energy charger called the nPower PEG (personal energy generator). The cylinder-shaped device, which is about twice as long as a smart phone, costs $159 and will be available for sale online in a month or two, company executives said last week at the CEA Lines Show. It's currently back-ordered.

Motion-powered portable charger. Tremont Electronics

The company is aiming the portable charger at backpackers or people who are the move but who don't have consistent access to charging, such as college students. While a person is walking, the charger, which weighs 11 ounces, generates as much power as an iPod Nano uses, said CEO Aaron LeMieux. Twenty-six minutes of walking is enough to top off a 3G smartphone for one minute of talking through a USB port, according to the company.

The nPower PEG charges a battery when a magnet, placed between two springs, moves up and down. The device is "tuned" to the frequency of motion of walking, LeMieux explained. It can also charge the internal lithium ion battery by shaking.

This on-the-go charging category has attracted several companies, including portable battery and fuel-cell makers. In fact, the nPower Peg was introduced at least two years ago. But the category of portable charging for consumer electronics has not yet materialized in a significant way.

Another company called M2E Power received venture funding in 2007 to develop its energy-harvesting system for consumer electronics. But the company, which had previously been focused on military applications, closed down and sold its assets.

The idea of getting useable energy from simply walking around is compelling. But to pay $159, you would expect a person to have a clear need for a portable charger, such as emergency workers or hikers. That mean kinetic chargers, at least for now, will likely appeal to a niche audience.