Power-Generating Shock Absorber Is Surprisingly Strong

Every road has a few bumps along the way, and inventors in both the US and UK have figured out how to use those dips to make electricity. In London, a new pilot project is underway to outfit traditional speed bumps with panels that harvest mechanical energy. MIT students have taken the same concept, but instead outfitted the cars themselves with shock absorbers that can also generate electricity.

The team at MIT’s department of Materials Science and Engineering hope to commercialize their invention, which harnesses energy from all those small bumps in the road. The prototype shock absorbers use a hydraulic system that pushes fluid through a turbine attached to an engine’s generator. When the vehicle hits a bump, an electronic system cushions the shock and uses that jolt to generate electricity to recharge the batteries or operate electrical equipment. The inventors also worked in a feature that allows the shock absorber to act like a regular one if the electronic system fails.

In a six-shock truck, each prototype absorber could generate an average of 1 kilowatt on a standard stretch of road. That’s enough electricity to run accessory devices such as hybrid trailer refrigeration units.

Student Zack Anderson said that after test-driving various models and checking the suspension with sensors, the results showed most vehicles, especially heavy trucks, wasted significant amounts of energy.

The students filed a patent and formed a corporation called Levant Power Corp. to develop and commercialize the product. They are testing a converted Humvee to optimize the system’s efficiency and hope to secure a military contract. A better shock absorber that can generate its own electricity will improve fuel efficiencies by allowing vehicles to move faster and smoother. For major companies like Wal-Mart, the cost savings could be significant – they could save $13 million a year on fuel by using the electricity-generating shock absorbers in their fleet of vehicles.

In London, inventors are focusing on the other end – how to use the bumps themselves to gather kinetic energy. Speed bumps, for example, are being tested to see how well they can power street lights, travel signals and electronic road signs. When a car drives over the bump, which can go up and down, a cog underneath the road turns producing energy. The device can work even when laid flat on the road. A steady stream of traffic passing over the bump can generate 10 to 36kW of power with ten bumps producing as much energy as one wind turbine.

Via MIT, Earth2Tech

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