A group of MIT undergraduate students have found that optimizing the shock absorbers in vehicles recovers “a significant amount of energy” that is typically wasted in normal suspensions of most automobiles. Their team claims a 10% overall increase in fuel efficiency, coming out on the high-end on heavier vehicles such as trucks, and they hope to win major contracts from the military as well as truck manufacturers.
Their new shock absorber, called the GenShock, utilizes a hydrolic system that pushes fluid through a turbine attached to a generator. The whole process is controlled electronically to optimize the damping and recover the maximum amount of energy from bumps in the road, while providing a smoother ride. They believe that their product will be able to completely replace the alternators that are currently installed in heavy commercial fleets and military vehicles.
The MIT students have already filed for a patent and formed a company, called Levant Power Corp. They plan on having a finished product by the end of this summer, at which point they will talk to large companies such as Wal-Mart about upgrading their supply transports. So far, the GenShock device is not cost-efficient enough to justify its inclusion in lighter cars, however as production gears up, the possibility is there.
Converting the up-and-down motion produced as automobiles pass over bumps and potholes is similar to capturing the kinetic energy of ocean waves. There have also been engineering projects to capture the tremors produced by people walking in high-traffic areas such as subway platforms, and generators in roads to convert the energy of automobiles passing over them. In all cases, the costs must justify the gains. If however, these MIT students succeed in convincing the military to install their shock absorber in their fleets, look for it to start appearing in commercial (heavy) vehicles in the near future as well.