Don’t curse the potholes, they can give you energy

February 13th, 2009 - 11:48 am ICT by IANS  

Washington, Feb 13 (IANS) MIT undergraduates have innovated a shock absorber that harvests energy from small bumps and potholes on the road and generates electricity while easing the ride.
Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates said they can produce up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers.

The project came about because “we wanted to figure out where energy is being wasted in a vehicle”, team member Zack Anderson explained. 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 said, “especially for heavy vehicles”.

Then 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 optimises 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 six-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.

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, said an MIT release. The study was published in MIT Tech Talk Wednesday.

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