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A Bump in the Road for Climate Change


With so many cars on the road this holiday season, it’s easy to see why automobiles account for almost half of the country’s fuel consumption.  But what if cars could recover some of that energy for other uses? An engineering professor at Virginia Tech is working on a way to give cars exactly that kind of ‘energy bump.’

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Lei Zuo and his team are working on a new kind of shock absorber that would not only enhance a car’s ride, but also create energy just from driving on the road.

“The ground is not smooth. So when you drive there you have vibration input.”

That vibration input comes from even the tiniest bumps in the road. So has come up with a way to convert those vibrations into a force that turns a generator in the suspension system, delivering electricity to the car’s battery.  The energy can be used on board, cutting demand on the alternator. And this could signal a new direction for one of our biggest energy users.

“Now we are taking this opportunity to recover energy that is traditionally wasted.”

Harvesting that previously wasted energy could save about 8 billion gallons of gasoline annually in the U.S. alone, a bump in the road to climate change and a potential global energy crisis.

Robbie Harris is based in Blacksburg, covering the New River Valley and southwestern Virginia.