A group of undergraduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have successfully created a new shock absorber that is able to generate electricity from small bumps in the road while also making the vehicle drive smoother on the road.
The idea behind the project started when the students were interested in trying to figure out "where energy is being wasted in a vehicle," said one of the seniors involved in the study. They discovered some hybrid car models are able to proficiently recover energy from braking, and eventually decided they needed to focus specifically on the suspension.
"A significant amount of energy" was wasted after students rented a group of different rental cars and outfitted the suspensions of each car with specialized sensors to monitor energy potential.
The regenerative shock absorbers are able to offer up to a 10 percent improvement in fuel efficiency than standard shock absorbers used in most cars today. The new shocks have a tiny turbine powered by a generator, so each time a shock is compressed or extended, hydraulic fluid must pass by the turbine. An active electronic system controls the hydraulics and the car has a smoother ride while also generating electricity.
During testing of a 6-shock truck, they found each shock absorber is able to generate up to an average of 1 kW on a road, which is "enough power to completely displace the large alternator load in heavy trucks and military vehicles."
If for some reason the electronics on the shocks fail, the fail-safe feature will have the shocks act simply like a normal shock absorber.
A patent is pending, and the students created Levant Power Corp., a company so they are able to fully develop and commercialize their product. They now plan to perfect the technology on a converted Humvee in an effort to secure a lucrative government contract for a new U.S. Army vehicle that is currently in development.
The group plans to have a final product ready this summer, when they'll start contacting companies to persuade them to upgrade their shock systems. As an example, if Wal-Mart were to convert its fleet of trucks with these new shocks, the company could save $13 million per year in total fuel costs.