Regenerative Shock Absorbers Turn Rough Rides into Power
A group of MIT students have designed a shock absorber that transforms energy produced by bumps in the road into electricity. The idea is similar to regenerative braking, where kinetic energy from slowing down a vehicle is captured and used in the same way. A smoother ride is another benefit from this new kind of shock absorber, which can produce up to a 10 percent improvement in overall vehicle fuel efficiency.
The MIT team talks about their inspiration and process:
The project came about because “we wanted to figure out where energy is being wasted in a vehicle,” senior Zack Anderson explains. 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 says, “especially for heavy vehicles.”
Once they realized the possibilities, 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 optimizes the damping, providing a smoother ride than conventional shocks while generating electricity to recharge the batteries or operate electrical equipment.