Energy harvesting shock absorbers could be used in the rail and automotive industries

Boosting the fuel efficiency of motor vehicles by ‘harvesting’ the energy generated by their shock absorbers and feeding it back into batteries or electrical systems such as air conditioning has become a major goal in automotive engineering. A University of Huddersfield researcher has designed a system and constructed a prototype that is ready for real-world testing.

Ruichen Wang’s doctoral supervisors, Professor Andrew Ball and Dr Fengshou Gu, suggested that he should work on an energy recovery device, addressing the issue that most of the energy contained in a vehicle’s fuel is wasted.

Considerable work has already been done harvesting energy from brake systems, so Dr Wang decided to focus on the suspension. After working on the mathematics, computational analysis and design of his device, Dr Wang constructed his full-size, ready-to-test prototype.

Prof Ball said: “It has resulted in 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.”

Harvested energy can be used for any auxiliary purpose in a vehicle, Prof Ball added, and in hybrids it could recharge the electric motor.

The next stage is to work with an industrial partner to install and test Dr Wang’s system in a road-going vehicle. But there is also the possibility that it could be adapted for rail vehicles – especially as Dr Wang has 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.”