Do the Clean Power Bump

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?


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.