A new system that could allow motor vehicles to “harvest” the energy generated by their shock absorbers and feed it back into the batteries, or electrical systems such as air conditioning, has been developed.
A prototype of the system is ready for real-world testing, and could provide a major boost to fuel efficiency.
The breakthrough came from a researcher at the University of Huddersfield, carrying out the project to earn his doctorate.
Dr Ruichen Wang’s research article, Modelling, Testing and Analysis of a Regenerative Hydraulic Shock System, details the development of and theory behind his device, which is designed for installation in a heavy goods vehicle.
Dr Wang with the prototype energy harvester. Image courtesy of the University of Huddersfield
An energy recovery device was suggested to Wang as a project by his supervisors, targeting the incredibly high amount of energy in vehicle fuel that is wasted.
A large amount of work has already been done to approach the issue by harvesting energy in brake systems, leading Wang to focus on suspension. Following computational analysis and design, he personally constructed the full-size, ready-to-test prototype.
“It has resulted in is a truly realisable application for energy recovery from a typical road vehicle. Ruichen developed a theoretical predictive model and carried out the empirical testing, and the two of them correlate beautifully,” said Professor Andrew Ball, one of Wang’s doctoral supervisors.
If successfully implemented in a vehicle, the device could be used to power any auxiliary purpose according to Professor Ball, allowing for a constant feed of energy to devices that may otherwise present a serious drain to the battery.
Additionally, in hybrid vehicles, the device could be used to recharge the vehicle’s electric motor.
In electric cars the technology could be used to recharge the battery
The ability to boost fuel efficiency through measures such as Wang’s device is a major goal for automotive engineering as, while electric vehicles may be the ultimate future, there is still a lot of work to be done before traditional vehicles can be retired.
Any technology that increases their economy can significantly improve their continuing viability and the broad usability of the energy harvester means that it will assist with the transition to electric vehicles as well.
Moving forward with the project, it is now necessary to find an industrial partner that can install and test Wang’s system in a road-going vehicle.
There is also work to be done to explore the expanded possibilities of the technology; in particular it may be possible to adapt the device for use in rail vehicles. The probabilities of rail adaptations is perhaps most prominent as Wang has now taken up a full-time research post at the University of Huddersfield’s Institute of Railway Research (IRR).
Dr Paul Allen, who leads the IRR’s Centre for Innovation in Rail, explained: “We are now exploring how Dr Wang’s energy harvesting and modelling techniques can be applied to developing low-cost self-health monitoring dampers for railway vehicles, a project which already has two industrial partners.”