Innovative Damper Design Converts Motion into Electricity

A group of student researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has come up with a new take on the shock absorber that effectively converts kinetic energy from normal vertical motion into usable electric power. The MIT teams says the regenerative capabilities of this new device -- patented as the GenShock -- can provide up to a 10-percent improvement in fuel economy by tapping into force that normally goes to waste as heat.

The team's ultimate goal is to create a system that can deliver enough electricity to eliminate the need for an alternator on conventional applications. The most obvious of these would include any kind of large truck fleets and/or military vehicles. Initial test results on an AM General-donated Humvee test mule indicate that goal is very reachable. Each of the GenShocks in its six-damper array has the capability to generate an average of up to 1 kilowatt of electricity when being driven on a "standard" road. While less-massive passenger cars wouldn't be able to fully match that level of on-the-fly generation, the MIT group does see some potential for a GenShock-based system in future hybrid and plug-in vehicles.

The GenShock functions by using a damper's basic compression/extension motions to force hydraulic fluid through a turbine attached to an electrical generator unit that can then feed the power it creates back to the battery or any other system. This process is controlled by a computer that's programmed to help smooth the overall ride quality to a degree not possible with normal shock absorbers. It effectively creates the ultimate win-win situation, as the quicker a vehicle can traverse demanding terrain; the more potential it has to make power. The GenShock also incorporates a fail-safe circuit that lets it operate like a regular shock absorber should it ever suffer any kind of electronic glitch.

With help from MIT's highly-regarded Venture Monitoring Service, the GenShock team has established the Levant Power Corp. to oversee the final development and commercialization process. That fine-tuning work should be completed by this summer, when they plan to begin soliciting potential GenShock customers from both the private and government sectors.

Photo courtesy of MIT

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