It's only a matter of time before cars' suspensions become a part of the electric power-regeneration process (similar to regenerative braking), and that time is coming very soon courtesy of ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Levant Power Corp. Levant Power has been developing what it calls GenShock-technology, the first active suspension system with the ability to recapture energy, and ZF has entered a partnership with the Massachusetts-based company to build it.

The active dampers employ a new type of valve technology to regulate the flow of oil in the shocks, which is the basis for the active and regenerative characteristics. The technology is contained in a device mounted to the outside of each shock. The device houses its own control unit, an electric motor and an electrohydraulic gear pump, and controls the flow of fluid in the shocks to adjust the damping rate, like a normal active damper.

The process is reversed when the shock is regenerating energy. As the vehicle is traversing uneven terrain or is unsettled in a turn, during acceleration or while braking, the swaying motion of the piston in the damper pushes fluid past the electrohydraulic gear pump, which drives the electric motor and converts the kinetic energy into electricity that is fed back into the power supply. If you think that a system like this would function better on poor road surfaces, you're right. The rougher the road surface, the more movement the damper experiences, which generates more electricity.

Portable jacks also could be a thing of the past for cars that use ZF's and Levant Power's new suspension system, because it's capable of actively raising each individual wheel - perfect for a roadside spare-tire change.

Click on the image above to enlarge, and read about the details of the new suspension system in the press release below. And read carefully, as regenerative suspension has the potential to be the next big suspension breakthrough.
Show full PR text
ZF and Levant Power Develop the World's First Fully Active, Regenerative Suspension for Automobiles

- ZF Friedrichshafen AG has entered into partnership with Levant Power Corp. to build the world's first fully active suspension system with energy recovery function

- GenShock-technology is a fully active system for passenger cars which combines dynamics, safety and comfort characteristics with minimum energy consumption

- Intelligent, simple design creates the basis for future cost-effective volume production

Automakers have long sought a suspension that allows sport cars handling while maintaining the comfort of a premium luxury sedan. The difficulty in achieving this outcome rests in balancing comfort and handling; comfort requires a soft suspension to absorb bumps, while handling requires stiffness for control. Previous attempts to achieve high-bandwidth active suspension have fallen short due to cost, complexity and power consumption. ZF and Levant Power are now developing GenShock-technology to unite the vast gains of active suspension with modest power consumption, minimal complexity and affordable cost.

The recently agreed cooperation between ZF Friedrichshafen AG and Levant Power Corp., based in Woburn, Mass., U.S., paves the way for revolutionary damper technology. "We look forward to working closely together with Levant Power. The objective is to develop the world's first fully active and regenerative suspension, make it ready for volume production and introduce it to the market. Thus, we are promoting efficient innovations that are tailored to meet global requirements," said Rolf Heinz Rüger, in charge of the Suspension Technology business unit of ZF's Car Chassis Technology division.

"Ride and handling are at the core of the driving experience. With GenShock-technology, ZF and Levant will reinvent that experience," continued Shakeel Avadhany, Founder & CEO of Levant Power.

Newly conceived valve

An innovative functional unit, fitted to the outside of the ZF damper, forms the technological basis of the active, regenerative system. The valve technology has been developed specifically for this application. The very compact unit is composed of its own control unit, an electric motor and an electrohydraulic gear pump. Driven by an electronically controlled electric motor, the gear pump regulates the oil flow in the damper. "For dynamics, comfort and safety, it is essential that active forces can be applied into the chassis," explained Rüger. For this reason, the damping characteristic curve not only adapts optimally and automatically to each driving situation, but bodywork pitch motions are also virtually eliminated during abrupt braking maneuvers and rolling motions. Moreover, the technology is capable of actively raising each individual wheel.

Electricity for the vehicle power supply

As soon as the driving situation permits, the innovative valve system automatically uses the swaying motion of the damper piston to recover energy. Then, the system guides the oil in the damper in such a way that it drives the electric pump motor. This then functions like a generator; it converts the generated kinetic energy into electricity and feeds it into the vehicle power supply, thus contributing to a reduction in CO2 emissions. This effect is most powerful when the vehicle is traveling on poor quality country roads.

With this project, ZF is making use of its long-standing know-how of adaptive dampers. Continuous Damping Control (CDC) has been winning over vehicle manufacturers since its market launch in 1994 and is still doing so with its fourth generation. The production numbers continue to rise; 2011 marked the temporary record high with more than 2.2 million dampers produced for the following customers: Alpina, Audi, Bentley, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, Opel, Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche and Volkswagen. A total of around 14 million CDC systems have already come off the production line at ZF, and the company expects an annual production of more than three million CDC units for passenger car applications alone by 2016. In addition, there are ZF systems for buses, trucks, agricultural machines and motorcycles.

About:

ZF is a global leader in driveline and chassis technology with 121 production companies in 26 countries. In 2012, the Group achieved a sales figure of about EUR 17.4 billion with approximately 75,000 employees. In order to continue to be successful with innovative products, ZF annually invests about five percent of its sales (2012: EUR 861 million) in research and development. ZF is one of the 10 largest automotive suppliers worldwide.

Levant Power Corp. is an emerging technology company headquartered in Woburn, Massachusetts working to develop the world's first fully active, regenerative suspension for the automotive, trucking, mass transit, and defense industries. The company holds several patents focused primarily on vehicle dynamics, and is the originator of GenShock and Activalve technology. Levant Power was founded in 2009 out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 46 Comments
      Ross
      • 1 Year Ago
      Electric car owners living in Detroit won't have to charge thier electric cars anymore considering the abundance of potholes/craters. Lol
      Neil Blanchard
      • 1 Year Ago
      To make all vehicles as efficient as possible, we need to look for heat - because heat means there is waste. If some of the energy from bumps in the road can be reclaimed by using these regenerative shocks, it may make it possible to not have an alternator, or it could extend the range of an EV. Why heat up the shock absorber, when you can get some of the energy back? Also, with very low aero drag vehicles, it becomes important to have load leveling, and to have very low rolling resistance tires, so these kinds of shocks would be a very good thing. Neil
        Captain Stu
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        What they need to get on are thermoelectric generators. BMW was developing a steam generator heated from the exhaust http://paultan.org/2005/12/11/bmw-turbosteamer/ Pretty disappointing it only made 15hp though.
        Spec
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Neil Blanchard
        Heat & noise are indicators of energy being wasted. And that is one way you can see how wasteful ICE cars are compared to EVs.
      John
      • 1 Year Ago
      that is some cool technology
      bonehead
      • 1 Year Ago
      Ive literally wondered since the early 90s why cars didnt have this. Shocks just serve the purpose of dampening motion by absorbing kinetic energy. Why not convert that into usable energy. There are a ton of different ways to do this and im amazed cars do not have this yet. Glad to see someone if finally moving forward with this.
      Captain Stu
      • 1 Year Ago
      The headline is misleading. It makes it sound like this is for a net energy gain. The press release makes it sound like it's an energy use reduction for a system (active suspension (1993 F1 season here we come!)) that uses a lot of energy.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      Existing shocks eat up this energy an turn it into heat. They don't have heat fins or any cooling system Go for a normal drive around town, an average commute, not an off-road rally. Before you get into the car and after you get out, put your hand on one of the shocks and compare the temperatures. This temperature difference multiplied by the specific heat of the shock (which is pretty low for metal) represents the potential recoverable energy. Sure, some of that got dissipated during the drive, but also this gadget would dissipate some heat due to inherent inefficiencies. I don't think we're talking about very much energy that can be recovered.
        AcidTonic
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        3000lbs+ falling is a lot of energy.....
          erjhe
          • 1 Year Ago
          @AcidTonic
          True, but the majority of that is absorbed and then returned by the springs. The shocks are there to just slow motion down, not stop it.
          CarNutMike
          • 1 Year Ago
          @AcidTonic
          But HOW MUCH electricity? Read BipDBos post again. The amount of energy dissipated through theshocks is a rounding error compared to aero, mass acceleration, and frictional losses. I bet the variable ride height is the bigger deal here. Trumpeting "regen" just gets more press.
          noelmwood
          • 1 Year Ago
          @AcidTonic
          Falling only a couple of inches at a time. Work = force * distance. Compare the distance covered over a shock absorber to the distance covered over regenerative braking.
      Jeff Gilleran
      • 1 Year Ago
      This technology has actually been around for several years, but nobody has really implemented it until now. Its very functional, and you will see it in future cars no question. Would love to see a Ionic paintjob that actually creates power simply driving with air passing across the surface. If it moves, you can generate power. :)
      razorpit
      • 1 Year Ago
      Driving in Pittsburgh each car could theoretically power a city block...
      energi_nut
      • 1 Year Ago
      Didn't the Bose corporation have something similar to this in a Lexus LS? Not sure if it greneated power but it certainly did not put a huge load on the vehicles electric system. Use linear electric motors instead of shocks and road on some spring syatem to hold the car up.
        flychinook
        • 1 Year Ago
        @energi_nut
        I remember that! It actually allowed the car to "jump" over small road hazards.
        kadajawi
        • 1 Year Ago
        @energi_nut
        This, from what I read, is just an adaptive suspension in a fancier, more efficient way. i.e. it adjusts the dampening rate. The BOSE system (as well as ECASS that is offered for the Hummer H1, yes, the US military apparently is already using that...) has motors/magnets that actually are able to move the wheel up and down, quickly. Coupled with sensors (BOSE I believe ahead of the road, ECASS in the suspension itself) they are able to move the wheel to exactly the right position to even out the road and give a smooth ride. The system shown here probably will only be able to make the suspension really gooey when a bump comes and stiff when cornering.
          kadajawi
          • 1 Year Ago
          @kadajawi
          Though sometimes it seems like the system is actually able to push down the wheel, which could mean that it is a proper active system like used by BOSE... I wish they'd publish more detail.
      rmkensington
      • 1 Year Ago
      That is brilliant. Wonder what kind of enery it can recover? Seems like it could generate quite a bit of power to recharge batteries.
        methos1999
        • 1 Year Ago
        @rmkensington
        I was wondering the same - doesn't say anywhere in the article, but then again, I imagine it would vary greatly depending on road conditions. The exciting thing about this technology is it would still be useful on an EV (assuming the weight penalty is not too large...)
        bonehead
        • 1 Year Ago
        @rmkensington
        What kind of energy? Kinetic
      Brodz
      • 1 Year Ago
      Brilliant idea. This technology would be great for rugged rural/commercial type cars and trucks.
      BipDBo
      • 1 Year Ago
      With four wheels, you have to buy four of these to get all of the benefit. I don't know how much energy can really be recaptured through suspension, but I seriously doubt that its enough to justify the extra weight, complexity and expense. I just don't see this being adopted on any significant scale for commuter cars. Perhaps it can find its niche in off-road electric vehicle racing.
        KenZ
        • 1 Year Ago
        @BipDBo
        Why is this comment marked down? He brings up a very valid point: aside from cost, does the energy recovered surpass the negative of the extra weight (and complexity). It's like silicon solar panels on an electric car: it sounds like a good idea, until you run the numbers and realize it hurts more than it helps.
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