At CleanTechnica, we do our best to bring news on developing technologies to our readers. These tech stories sometimes develop into mature products that advance renewables and sometimes they don’t get to market. This technology is expected to get to market, but no timeline has been established, and there is no guarantee of that happening.
The Story Begins
For me, this story starts a decade and a half ago with the advent of the Prius hybrid being introduced into the North American market and my learning about their regenerative braking. It occurred to me that shock absorbers could also be used for regenerative energy production from the bumpy streets. I lived in Boston, Massachusetts at the time, and we had our share of potholes, and bumpy construction sites through which we had to drive during a major road construction project that was called The Big Dig.
Shock absorbers are built to absorb bumps, and height fluctuations in the road, to smooth out the ride. These road fluctuations cause a natural up-down motion at the wheels. The motion, loosely speaking, is vertical, and the shock absorbers smooth out the ride. They typically use a two cylinder of different diameter with the smaller one inside a larger cylinder, and sometimes a spring. The motion is a bit like a piston motion, except it is not rhythmic. Capturing that vertical energy to produce electricity, conceptually speaking, sounded simple enough to me as I sat in Boston Big Dig traffic jams.
The reason why this story is significant for EVs is because this energy could be captured to create electricity that would be used to propel the vehicle, and this would conceivably increase EV car ranges, which could expedite public acceptance of EVs. Range anxiety, regardless of whether or not it’s real or perceived, currently remains a big stumbling block for mass EV acceptance, and this suspension electricity generation technology could extend ranges and make range anxiety a thing of the past. With EV ownership currently approaching 1% of cars on the road in the US (with EV sales counts so far increasing every year), anything that would increase EV sales would be welcomed by the green cleantech community.
MIT Proves Technology
Some years later, I heard on National Public Radio (NPR) news that a project by students at MIT had succeeded in proving out the regenerative process in shock absorbers. Then in 2009, I read about it in an article on Mike Millikin’s important GreenCarCongress site.
From Mike’s article: “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.” This is no small potatoes. Any 10% gain in efficiency would significantly improve electric vehicles.
Patent Filed by Levant Power as “Active Vehicle Suspension”
Some of the MIT engineering students graduated and formed a company. They named it Levant Power Corporation, based in Woburn, Massachusetts. They have filed a patent on an energy-producing shock absorbing device. The abstract states that their invention detects: “a wheel event requiring control of the active suspension; and sourcing energy from the energy storage facility and delivering it to the electric motor in response to the wheel event.” In layperson terms, it takes a wheel event, or bump, or change in road level, that generates electricity and then their system delivers it to the battery for use by the electric motor to propel the vehicle. Their system can also predict if the “wheel event” is a hill or a bump. They are still in the R&D stage of development.
Levant was contacted and given an opportunity to comment, but declined the invitation. According to an unnamed source in the company, no prototype has yet been built or tested.
Tesla Forum is In on the Discussion
There are a couple of discussion threads in the Tesla Forum section on regenerative electricity from the suspension system. The public threads of electricity suspension and shock absorber generators haven’t been contributed to for several years, and it’s not clear if the people in the discussion are employees of Tesla or external forum members.
To the best of my knowledge, Tesla has made no public statement on this topic. When their Media Services department was contacted, they did not even reply to my request for information on this topic, not even with a “No comment.”
Intertronic Gresser Advances the Potential on Regenerative Suspension
The nice people at Intertronic Gresser have taken the shock absorbing energy regeneration concept and improved it into a full suspension energy regeneration system. They claim that this increases the gains very significantly, even as much as double the range. In their system, the weight of the vehicle plays a big role in how much electricity is generated.
Two Short Videos that Show Regenerative Suspension System
On the Intertronic Gresser patent page, there are two short videos, and more information about their regenerative suspension system.
Intertronic Gresser Patents for Electricity-Generating Suspension System for Hybrid and EV Automobiles
In an email received from German Gresser at Intertronic Gresser of Wuerzburg, Germany:
In USA and Europe, …the invention is patented. In China and India, the patenting process is not yet complete.
Can Half of a Vehicle’s Propulsion be Met by IG’s Technology?
In an email received from Intertronic Gresser, German Gresser stated about their electricity-generating suspension system:
I know the system of Levant Power. Our system “Electricity from the
suspension” has a much higher energy yield, because the conventional
steel springs and shock absorbers completely are eliminated. As a result, more forces are released to the power conversion into electricity.
After careful theoretical calculation, we estimate the extension of the route to approximately 100%. That means, when the battery enables a ride range of, for example 200 miles [322 km], you can drive round about 400 miles [644 km].
Please note that CleanTechnica is not in any way validating or authenticating such a claim, we are only reporting information that is being communicated.
BREAKTHROUGH TECHNOLOGY is Promising
If Intertronic Gresser’s calculations are correct, the significance of this technology is truly significant. The implication to this is so amazing that after a brief experience of cognitive dissonance, it became clear that their claim meant that 50% of the energy used to propel the vehicle would come from the electricity that their suspension system generates. If true, ‘wow.’
Intertronic Gresser is claiming that an EV that would normally have a 322 km (200 mi) range, with this technology added, would extend the range to 644 km (400 mi). This would be a 100% range gain!
Ok, now let that sink in a moment. If this technology realizes, and is adopted:
– It would mean that widespread overnight EV adoption would happen due to the elimination of range anxiety;
– It would effectively cut the cost of batteries in half because only half as much battery power would be needed for the same fixed range;
– It would mean that the cost of EVs would be significantly reduced, which would lower the cost of EVs, which would increase EV sales;
– It would increase ranges by a factor of two, which could reduce pressure on building out charging station networks;
– It would reduce battery weight, which would increase range;
– It would lower the cost of operating EV trucks and buses, revolutionizing the adoption rates of commercial EVs; and
– It would, by virtue of supplanting ICE (internal combustion engine) vehicles with EVs, cut down on the amount of gasoline burned, thus retarding the rate of GHGs (greenhouse gases) being spewed into the atmosphere, thus slowing the rate of climate disruption.
What Would a 100% Potential Bump in Range Have on Existing EVs?
As has been repeated, this technology hasn’t yet been proven, but with that understood, just for fun, let’s have a look at some projections in case the promise of this technology bears true over time. Referencing Zach Shahan’s excellent listing of all-EVs-and-their-ranges article, which he updates with new car announcements, we can list some popular EVs with their existing ranges, and project out their extended ranges.
The Obvious Question
I can just see someone ask this question in the below Comments section, so I’ll ask it here. Might it be worth the gain in yield to intentionally make roads more bumpy? It’s not likely because from the Intertronic Gresser page, as I read it, it suggests that vehicle weight seems to be far more significant than road bumps. This means that this technology, while potentially great for cars, might be at least as significant for trucks.
This technology is conceptually feasible, and shows much promise, but it is still in development, and until we have many miles of real-life road testing, we are in the speculation realm, which is fraught with danger. A prototype by Levant Power or Intertronic Gresser isn’t even built yet. IG has plans to build their first prototype in the near-term coming weeks.
Sometimes new technologies come to market and sometimes they don’t. While we are hopeful, we’ll have to wait to see how this plays out. Stay tuned to CleanTechnica for future developments.