Harvesting Energy From Bumps In The Road
Don’t curse the potholes, they can give you energy, says a team of MIT students. The MIT undergraduates have devised a shock absorber that can smoothen your ride as well as harvest energy from bumps that will generate electricity! The study was published in MIT Tech Talk on Wednesday. The team wanted to figure out where energy is being wasted in a moving vehicle. Some hybrid cars are already recovering the energy from breaking. So the team searched elsewhere and quickly concentrated on suspension. Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates said they can generate up to a 10 percent enhancement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers.
They rented a variety of car models, attaching sensors to suspension to determine the energy potential. They were aided by laptop computers for recording the sensor data.
Their tests revealed that “a significant amount of energy” was being wasted in conventional suspension systems, Anderson said, “especially for heavy vehicles”. After that they set out to prepare a prototype system to harness the wasted power. Their shock absorber employs 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. This device provides a smoother ride than traditional shocks while generating electricity to recharge the batteries or operate electrical equipment.
The students are targeting those companies who operate large fleets of heavy vehicles. The U.S. military and several track manufacturers have already shown a keen interest in this project. The company that manufactures Humvees for the army, and is currently developing a next-generation version of the all-purpose vehicle, is interested enough to have loaned them a vehicle for testing purposes. This technology will 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.
In their testing so far, the students realized that in a 6-shock heavy truck, each shock absorber could produce up to an average of 1 kW on a standard road. This power will be enough to completely displace the large alternator load in heavy trucks and military vehicles. Sometimes accessory devices can be operated, such as hybrid trailer refrigeration units.
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 plans to have a final, fine-tuned version of the device ready by this summer. Then they approach other big potential 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.