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Power from Potholes

Automakers are examining a variety of technologies to enhance fuel economy. But a group of undergraduate students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has found an overlooked source: shock absorbers.

When a car’s wheel hits a hole or bump, a standard shock absorber disperses the impact energy through hydraulic fluid and moves a piston. In the M.I.T. design, the fluid is instead forced through a small turbine attached to a generator. The generator, powered by the compressions, can recharge batteries or power the vehicle’s electrical equipment. The students say that for heavy vehicles such as Hummers, the system can boost fuel efficiency from 2 to 10 percent, depending on the terrain. They have formed Levant Power Corporation to commercialize a product they are calling GenShock. Right now they are tailoring GenShock for U.S. Army vehicles and big-rig trucks, but it could possibly be adapted for passenger vehicles.

“This is our flagship product,” says Shakeel Avadhany, a senior at M.I.T. and the company’s chief executive officer. But he adds, “We’re looking to come up with innovative solutions for everything on wheels.”

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