|GenShock prototype. Click to enlarge.
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. MIT Senior Shakeel Avadhany and his teammates say they can produce up to a 10% improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency by using the regenerative shock absorbers.
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.
Another Boston-area startup, Electric Truck LLC, has exclusively optioned commercial rights to a regenerative electromagnetic shock absorber technology developed by Tufts engineering professor emeritus Ronald Goldner and colleague Peter Zerigian within the School of Engineering and which received additional support in subsequent years from Argonne National Laboratory. Their regenerative shock absorber uses an electromagnetic linear generator to convert variable frequency, repetitive intermittent linear displacement motion to useful electrical power. (Earlier post.)
In testing so far, the MIT students found that in a 6-shock heavy truck, each of their regenerative shock absorbers 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.
AM General, 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 the MIT team a vehicle for testing purposes.
They filed for a patent last year and formed a company, called Levant Power Corp., to develop and commercialize the product they call GenShock.
The team is 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.
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 A123Systems, a supplier of high-power lithium-ion batteries.
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, optimized version of the device ready this summer. Then they will start talking to potential large 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.