• Zack Anderson, senior in elecrical engineering and computer sciences, holds a GenShock prototype up to a Humvee coil spring where it is installed.

    Photo: Donna Coveney

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  • GenShock prototype

    Photo courtesy Zack Anderson

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  • Shakeel Avadhany (Materials Science '09) monitors pressure, position, and generated power sensor data on the custom data acquisition system.

    Photo: Donna Coveney

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More power from bumps in the road

MIT students develop energy-harvesting shock absorbers


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A team of MIT undergraduate students has invented a shock absorber that harnesses energy from small bumps in the road, generating electricity while it smoothes the ride more effectively than conventional shocks. The students hope to initially find customers among companies that operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. They have already drawn interest from the U.S. military and several truck manufacturers.

Senior Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates say they can produce up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers. The company that produces Humvees for the army, and is currently working on development of the next-generation version of the all-purpose vehicle, is interested enough to have loaned them a vehicle for testing purposes.

The project came about because "we wanted to figure out where energy is being wasted in a vehicle," senior Zack Anderson explains. Some hybrid cars already do a good job of recovering the energy from braking, so the team looked elsewhere, and quickly homed in on the suspension.

They began by renting a variety of different car models, outfitting the suspension with sensors to determine the energy potential, and driving around with a laptop computer recording the sensor data. Their tests showed "a significant amount of energy" was being wasted in conventional suspension systems, Anderson says, "especially for heavy vehicles."

Once they realized the possibilities, the students set about building a prototype system to harness the wasted power. Their prototype shock absorbers use a hydraulic system that forces fluid through a turbine attached to a generator. The system is controlled by an active electronic system that optimizes the damping, providing a smoother ride than conventional shocks while generating electricity to recharge the batteries or operate electrical equipment.

In their testing so far, the students found that in a 6-shock heavy truck, each shock absorber could generate up to an average of 1 kW on a standard road — enough power to completely displace the large alternator load in heavy trucks and military vehicles, and in some cases even run accessory devices such as hybrid trailer refrigeration units.

They filed for a patent last year and formed a company, called Levant Power Corp., to develop and commercialize the product. They are currently doing a series of tests with their converted Humvee to optimize the system's efficiency. They hope their technology will help give an edge to the military vehicle company in securing the expected $40 billion contract for the new army vehicle called the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, or JLTV.

"They see it as something that's going to be a differentiator" in the quest for that lucrative contract, says Avadhany. He adds, "it is a completely new paradigm of damping."

"This is a disruptive technology," Anderson says. "It's a game-changer."

"Simply put — we want this technology on every heavy-truck, military vehicle and consumer hybrid on the road," Avadhany says.

The team has received help from MIT's Venture Mentoring Service, and has been advised by Yet-Ming Chiang, the Kyocera Professor of Ceramics in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and founder of A123 Systems, a supplier of high-power lithium-ion batteries.

Not only would improved fuel efficiency be a big plus for the army by requiring less stockpiling and transportation of fuel into the war zone, but the better ride produced by the actively controlled shock absorbers make for safer handling, the students say. "If it's a smoother ride, you can go over the terrain faster," says Anderson.

The new shocks also have a fail-safe feature: If the electronics fail for any reason, the system simply acts like a regular shock absorber.

The group, which also includes senior Zachary Jackowski and alumni Paul Abel '08, Ryan Bavetta '07 and Vladimir Tarasov '08, plans to have a final, fine-tuned version of the device ready this summer. Then they will start talking to potential big customers. For example, they have calculated that a company such as Wal-Mart could save $13 million a year in fuel costs by converting its fleet of trucks.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 11, 2009 (download PDF).


Topics: Energy, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (I&E)

Comments

Hello, I've been considering several ways to gain even more energy with these sorts of regenerative shock absorbers: One is to design them to work with composite wheel/tires. Since much of the suspension is provided by the inflated tires, if you designed rigid, very low rolling resistance wheel/tire, and absorb that additional energy in the suspension instead; you gain efficiency from both. Another would be to provide all of the spring in the shock absorber. It may be that instead of hydraulics, that an air shock or an electromagnetic shock (like the Bose system) would be better? I hope that this project can be continued. Sincerely, Neil Blanchard Maynard, MA
I am working on a simular project and I use the energy recovered by an electromagnetic linear motor in place of a hydraulic shock absorber. Unfotunately my work is written in german an so I cannot attach it. If you are interested in it i'll be ready to mail it. Rick Hauert Gaessli 11 Schnottwil Switzerland
Hello I am very interested in your project. I am writing a work about energy harvesting with electromagnetic linear motors and I will be very happy if you mail me your work. Thank you (msioufa@gmx.net)
Hello rickhauert, actually I am going to work on a similiar project, so I am very interested in your work. It would be great if could email it to me (micha000@gmx.net). Many Thanks! Micha Sontheimer
Hello This is sakthivel, i am doing my UG in automobile branch and i am very much interested in your project. Can you people mail some technical info regarding your project for my better understanding?! thanking you. (sakthivel1190@gmail.com) India.
I was wondering if it was possible to work around the basic suspension geometry and figure out a way of pumping in kinetic energy directly into the wheels. I am obviously coming from the old school theory of "more conversions more loss". Say a small bump on the average road makes an independent shock absorber of a family car go up and down about 2 inches, we are looking at a 1000 lbs going up and down 2 inches in say 1/200th of a second. Imagine this power being transmitted to the wheel through say a ratcheted rack&pinion to the wheel itself. I know it sounds far fetched but a possibility none the less.
Hello Fellows, I am also interested in all the work done by any person on Energy harvest and willing to get you help, please mail me any beneficial work and get assured it will be of great help and will be cited to whoever did it. Thanks
Hello, I did something similar from my final year project during undergrad. I would like to share my work which was on experimental basis. I'm really interested in work as such. Please mail me a little technical description. I'd be obliged to get updates about further projects and if i could be of any use. Sincerely, Rohit Singhi (rohitsinghi@hotmail.com) india
Hi, I'm a senior mechanical engineering student from Turkey. My project is about energy harvesting from vehicle suspension and i would be very happy if i can get some info about your work genshock. It can be very useful for my project. Thanks in advance for your interest. With my best regards.
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