Elizabeth, this is a great example of how engineers respond to problems to find solutions. That is happened at MIT is not a suprise. MIT has always had a policy that encourages the creation of patents from research at the school. They have a generous program of sharing the revenue with the professors and students. This enriches both the institution and the population. Most other schools do not do this. I have sat through presentations on some very innovative technologies at other schools and find that there is no attempt to patent the technology.
Great idea for taking a non-obvious energy generation opportunity and turning it into a reality. Nice example of innovative thinking and clever application development that could be a break-through technology in the future.
Ultimately, Rob, I believe the idea is to store the current in the vehicle's battery. But the trick is to make sure the electrical current is usable by the battery, and so they have to filter it first to take out the voltage spikes that the shock aborbers produce. To do that, they probably use voltage regulators.
I don't know for sure, Rob, but I would suppose it's just an extra energy source, reducing the parasitic nature of your electrical features. It's said today that only 15% of the volume of your gasoline tank is used to propel a car forward, so if you have an additional electrical source, it can improve your fuel efficiency. Originally, I believe the idea of items like this one was to use the extra energy to run accessories, such as refrigeration units, on big trucks, particulaly in the military. Judging from what Liz is saying here, it appears to be making the transition to passenger cars now. Seems like it could be used to recharge the batteries in a hybrid or EV, too, but I don't know if that's happening.
Again, I can't say for sure, but I've been hearing that figure for years. I believe it is based on a huge percentage (maybe 60-65%) of the engine's energy being lost as waste heat and friction. The biggest innovation would be to figure out how that waste heat could be harvested.
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