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Summary:

Start aiming for the potholes! Engineers on both sides of the Atlantic have come up with different ways to get the cars of the future to generate power just from hitting a few bumps — a cleantech dream, an evil plot from the makers of Dramamine, […]

Start aiming for the potholes! Engineers on both sides of the Atlantic have come up with different ways to get the cars of the future to generate power just from hitting a few bumps — a cleantech dream, an evil plot from the makers of Dramamine, or a trend in harnessing kinetic energy?

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In the U.S. students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created shock absorbers that can harness energy when a vehicle hits a bump. And at the same time a designer in the UK has created speed bumps that can generate power when bumped.

Hydraulics for clean power. And even better as a combo — picture driving cars with energy generating shock absorbers over roads covered in power generating speed bumps. Sales of drive-thru coffee might drop, but clean energy goes up.

The folks at MIT are testing out their new shocks on the king of the off-roaders, the Humvee, lent to them by Humvee maker AM General. The students have formed their own company, called Levant Power, to develop and commercialize the new shocks.

They’re still in the testing stage, but so far the MIT team found that in a 6-shock heavy truck, each shock absorber could generate up to an average of 1 kilowatt on a regular road. They said that’s enough power to completely displace the large alternator load in heavy trucks and military vehicles.

And as far as those bumps in the road, Peter Hughes, the inventor of the cleantech speed bumps, told the Guardian that the bumps are expected to power street lights, traffic signals and electronic road signs in a pilot project in west London. The speed bumps are designed to be raised and lowered, and can work even when they’re laid flat (which does no good for the clean power shock absorbers, or our dreams of synergy).

But no worries, MIT said the shocks have already drawn interest from the U.S. military as well as several truck makers. And the cleantech speed bumps could be rolled out by 2010, potentially going nationwide after that. Hold onto your hats. And your stomachs.

  1. From the laws of thermodynamics, this “new energy” hasta come from somewhere. I would believe the MIT guys have rigged something up that uses motion the shocks would normally be dissipating anyway. But the speed bumps could only take their energy from the cars that drive over them, and would cause more braking (for lower fuel economy). Not that it can’t work, but I’m suspicious.

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  2. For the regenerative shock absorbers, that would be like free fuel for Pennsylvania drivers (myself included)! If ones could be made as Insight (and Prius too I suppose) OEM replacements, a way will be found to use that energy to help recharge the battery pack for each. What a perfect way to take advantage of degraded urban roads! Depending on voltage output, it could significantly reduce alternator loading for conventional cars, surely providing much of the energy needed to power daytime running lights.

    As for the regenerative adjustable speed bumps, even lowered they’d get energy the same way pavement deflection under load powers pneumatic traffic light relay traffic sensors. If multiple ones are staged the right distance apart, natural truck suspension resonance over them could generate significant energy.

    Pavement degradation over them could be an issue; I wonder what material they use as pavement over them, maybe 15 to 30cm thick material possibly made largely of recycled tires?

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  3. I agree with Nathan that the speed bumps would lower your fuel economy by slowing the car down. This is better than normal speed bumps where people use their brakes to slow the car down and waste all that energy as heat. However, it should only be used where speed bumps are now, we can’t just place them everywhere expecting free energy. You’d just be using the engine and fuel from the car to power the streetlights.

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  4. [...] Driving through residential areas, I often find myself cursing speed bumps and their energy-wasting, anti-hypermiling ways. Sure, they may promote slower driving, but when you’re trying to maximize your tank of fossil fuels, they’re anything but friendly. Someday however, speed bumps, potholes, and rocky roads may actually contribute to better energy efficiency. Two separate projects on opposite sides of the Atlantic are working to convert the kinetic energy created by driving over bumps into clean energy. [...]

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  5. [...] Dri­vi­n­g throu­gh re­si­de­n­ti­al­ are­as, I­ ofte­n­ fi­n­d m­yse­l­f cu­rsi­n­g spe­e­d b­u­m­ps an­d the­i­r e­n­e­rgy-wasti­n­g, an­ti­-h­ype­r­mil­in­g w­ays. Sure­, t­he­y may p­ro­mo­t­e­ sl­o­w­e­r dri­vi­n­g, but­ w­he­n­ yo­u’re­ t­ryi­n­g t­o­ maxi­mi­z­e­ yo­ur t­an­k o­f fo­ssi­l­ fue­l­s, t­he­y’re­ an­yt­hi­n­g but­ fri­e­n­dl­y. So­me­day ho­w­e­ve­r, sp­e­e­d bump­s, p­o­t­ho­l­e­s, an­d ro­c­ky ro­ads may ac­t­ual­l­y c­o­n­t­ri­but­e­ t­o­ be­t­t­e­r e­n­e­rgy e­ffi­c­i­e­n­c­y. T­w­o­ se­p­arat­e­ p­ro­je­c­t­s o­n­ o­p­p­o­si­t­e­ si­de­s o­f t­he­ At­l­an­t­i­c­ are­ w­o­rki­n­g t­o­ con­­ve­r­t the­ ki­n­­e­ti­c e­n­­…. [...]

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  6. [...] or at least much closer to market, including wireless sensors, regenerative braking, and even bumps in the road. And it’s not just startups that are getting in the [...]

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