There are about 15 million cars on the roads of Australia and half a million motorcycles, compared to the 255 million cars in the U.S., account for 40% of their fuel consumption. Interestingly enough, only 16% of the consumed fuel is used for driving, the rest is for heating and supporting other systems in the vehicle.
A professor from Virginia Tech's College of Engineering, named Lei Zuo has the solution. He developed a way to harvest energy from the car’s suspension. There are three ways to generate energy while driving, he said. First one is through the heat released by the working engine, second one consists in recovering kinetic energy captivated during braking, and the last one is via
vibrational energy given off by the car’s shock absorbers.
Zuo’s innovational shock absorbers translate the vertical vibrations into circular motion, which rotates a generator. The electricity, produced in it, is delivered directly to the car’s electrical devices or battery. What was challenging until now, is the conversion of bidirectional motion into a unidirectional one, necessary to drive a generator. Zuo invented a brilliant combination of gears which allows the two-way motion to convert into electricity.
Virginia’s professor calculations suggest that among 100 and 400 watts of energy can be provided by the vibrations of car’s shock absorbers. And this is only if you are driving on a normal road. Rougher tracks would generate even more energy. It will increase the fuel efficiency up to 5%, which will save up to $19 billion spent on fuel per year.
Zuo says that his innovation helps the generator to work at a constant speed, which decreases the load on the gear teeth and makes the whole system more stable and efficient. Additionally, the generator keeps spinning even after the shock absorber have stopped vibrating, which increases the volume of harvested energy.
His students have built the exemplary model with off-the-rack components and have tested it on the campus roads. Their model has managed to harvest 60% of the available energy, which is an essential progress in comparison to other designs. Besides, Zuo is certain that with quality components and precise manufacturing the efficiency could come up to 85%.
Furthermore, Zuo explains that his invention can be modified entirely in terms of function and space, and can be joined in every vehicle without changing anything on it.