Invention Taps Shocks To Boost Fuel Economy

When Zack Anderson, Shakeel Avadhany and Vladimir Tarasov were juniors at MIT, they predictably spent a lot of time dreaming up ideas. One problem they tackled was how to come up with a more fuel-efficient car. The three friends took their invention and went into business.

Conventional cars waste a lot of energy, Anderson says.

"About 20 percent of the energy in each gallon of gasoline is actually used to move the vehicle forward. It's really amazing — 20 percent. That's nothing!" says Anderson, who graduated just last June. "So we were thinking, where's energy lost?"

It's lost overcoming road friction, for one thing. A bumpy road in Silicon Valley during the student's summer break sparked a notion. What if there was a shock absorber that didn't disperse the force of the bumps, but instead sent the energy back to the drive train? Wouldn't that increase the car's fuel economy, and make the Earth a little greener?

Of course, the three realized it could also make them a little richer, so they did some research and got to work. MIT was interested in backing their idea, but they declined and decided to form their own company.

A year and a half later, they run a business called Levant Power and produce a device called the GenShock. It's still in the prototype phase, but they've tried their system in a Humvee and have had talks with the military. They're also aiming to put the GenShock into trucks and city buses.

According to Anderson, their tests have shown that a heavy vehicle can save about 3 percent in fuel costs using the GenShock system. Even a small percentage like that can mean big savings for a big fleet.

"Wal-Mart has 7,200 trucks," Anderson says. "We're talking about saving them over $13 million a year."

Will the GenShock turn up in regular cars one day? Anderson is banking on it. He explains that the future of the electric or hybrid car rests on harnessing sources of lost energy. Hybrids now use just one of those sources — the brake system. But Anderson and his buddies think harnessing the energy from a car's suspension — using their invention — is the next big thing.

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