ZF has entered into a partnership with Massachusetts-based Levant Power to build the world’s “first fully active suspension system with energy-recovery function,” called GenShock. The news was brought to our attention earlier today when Autoblog first reported the story. Levant has spent the past few years chasing this technology, and is confident that its recent pairing with ZF will result in a system applicable to the mainstream market. While the idea isn’t new, ZF says that this design is simple enough to be cost-effective for volume production.
At the heart of GenShock is a newly designed compact valve that includes its own control unit, electric motor, and electrohydraulic gear pump that mounts to the exterior of a ZF-sourced damper. The oil flow in the damper is regulated to adapt for optimum comfort, safety, and dynamic performance, much like in more-traditional active suspensions. Unlike current designs, however, energy harvesting occurs automatically when the swaying motion of the damper—activated by wheel travel—guides the oil in such a manner that it drives the electric pump motor that functions as a generator. It’s at this point that kinetic energy is converted into electricity, which is ultimately fed into the vehicle’s electric power supply. As ZF points out, the effect is most powerful when traversing significantly battered roadways, something we have no shortage of.
With nearly every manufacturer now offering hybrid powertrains, and regenerative braking becoming such a prominent feature in such powertrains, it was almost inevitable that suspension systems would be re-engineered to adopt such an efficiency-minded function. We’re rather curious as to whether this technology could be viable in the trucking industry. It would seem to us that multi-axle big rigs could provide ample opportunity for maximum energy harvesting.
As is the case with most emerging technologies, there’s no free lunch. The cost-versus-gain equation will be the deciding factor in its implementation, and we’re eager to see some figures detailing just how much energy the system can recover in real-world use. Then again, if the industry’s widespread adoption of tech such as forced induction and direct injection is any indicator, even the most basic vehicles could be harvesting energy from our nation’s crumbling infrastructure sooner rather than later.