From Pothole to Power

A Group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate students has developed a regenerative shock absorber it says improves hybrid-electric vehicle fuel efficiency up to 10%. We want this technology on every heavy truck, military vehicle and consumer hybrid, Shakeel Avadhany, an MIT senior and member of the team, says in a statement. The shock absorber converts energy from road bumps into

A Group of Massachusetts Institute of Technology undergraduate students has developed a regenerative shock absorber it says improves hybrid-electric vehicle fuel efficiency up to 10%.

“We want this technology on every heavy truck, military vehicle and consumer hybrid,” Shakeel Avadhany, an MIT senior and member of the team, says in a statement.

The shock absorber converts energy from road bumps into electricity, while smoothing a vehicle's ride more effectively than conventional shocks, the team claims.

Team member Zack Anderson says the students created the new shock after discovering conventional suspension systems waste “a significant amount of energy.”

To harness that wasted energy, the students built a prototype shock with a hydraulic system that forces fluid through a turbine attached to a generator. An active electronic damping system smoothes the vehicle's ride and generates electricity that recharges a battery pack or powers electrical equipment.

The MIT students say testing indicates each of six shocks in a heavy-duty truck can generate up to 1 kW of power when traveling on a standard highway. That could replace a large alternator load in heavy trucks and military vehicles and perhaps even run a gas-electric hybrid refrigeration truck trailer MIT says is under development by industry suppliers.

If the electronics were to fail, the shocks still would function as conventional shock absorbers.

A patent is pending for the technology, and the students have formed a startup company, Levant Power Corp., to commercialize the shock absorber.

Avadhany says the technology is going to be a differentiator that could help AM General Corp., the company that makes Humvees, and its partner General Dynamics Corp. in their contract to build the U.S. Army's upcoming Joint Light Tactical Vehicle — the military vehicle of the future.

The team claims its shock-absorber system would enable the Army to reduce fuel stockpiling in war zones and provide better handling of military vehicles.

“If it's a smoother ride, you can go over the terrain faster,” Anderson says.

Other members of the team include Zachary Jackowski, Paul Abel, Ryan Bavetta and Vladimir Tarasov.

Their goal is to produce a fine-tuned version of the shock by next summer, and they then will offer the device to potential fleet customers. The students say a company, such as Wal-Mart, could save $13 million annually in fuel costs by equipping its truck fleet with their shocks.

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