MIT Spinoff Levant Power On Track to Produce Energy-Boosting Shock Absorbers For Cars, Tanks, and Trains
With gasoline prices on the rise and carbon dioxide emissions threatening to bring about global climate disaster, MIT spinoff startup Levant Power is trying to help drivers cut fuel consumption—by turning their shock absorbers into a source of energy.
A car going down a bumpy road vibrates. Springs absorb the vibrations, and shock absorbers damp the action of the springs by dissipating the energy as heat. Levant Power plans to recover some of this energy through a new type of shock absorber the company calls GenShock, which converts the energy into electricity. And Levant Chief Operating Officer and co-founder Zackary Anderson says the company is on track for large-scale production of the shocks—which can be installed on cars, trucks, trains, Humvees, and even tanks—in 12 to 18 months.
“Talks with potential manufacturers are ongoing, and a major focus of the company is selecting the right partners,” Anderson says.
Levant is pilot-testing the new shocks on buses, trucks, and military vehicles. The startup has signed test agreements with several vehicle manufactures, who are paying for the test units. “It is a good deal and an important step for Levant Power,” Anderson says. Between those agreements and the capital that Levant has raised from private investors, Anderson says, the company has the resources necessary to develop its products. (Levant is not currently disclosing the identities of its investors or vehicle manufacturer partners nor the amount of capital it has raised, though we reported a $400,000 equity deal for the startup last October.)
Anderson founded Levant with Shakeel Avadhany (now CEO) and Vladimir Tarasov (now VP of marketing) in 2008, when the three were all undergraduate students at MIT. “MIT gave us a lot of support,” Anderson says.
The trio concluded that only about 20 percent of the fuel that a car or truck burns is used to actually move the vehicle. Some of the lost energy is dissipated through the suspension, and Anderson, Avadhany, and Tarasov wanted to capture at least some of that escaping valuable stuff.
To do so, they built a new kind of shock absorber that uses the bouncing and vibrations of the vehicle to pump a fluid through a hydraulic motor. The motor is coupled to a generator that produces electricity to drive accessories, relieve strain on the alternator, and charge the battery. All in all, Levant expects that its new shocks can cut fuel consumption by one to six percent, depending on a vehicle’s weight and the terrain traversed—the heavier the vehicle and the rougher the terrain, the greater the savings.
Levant’s strategy is to bring the new shock absorber technology—which can be retrofitted into existing vehicles—to market first in heavy vehicles, with passenger cars following suit approximately one to two years later. The company is starting in the United States but eventually will target global markets as well. Anderson projects that Levant’s shocks will be more expensive than a conventional units, but on par or less expensive than “intelligent shocks” that dynamically change damping levels based on road conditions—a function that Levant’s technology can also perform.
All in all, Levant’s shock absorbers will be priced for a less-than-two-year payback, Anderson says. And the startup calculates that Sysco, Coca-Cola, and Walmart, for example, would each save more than $30 million in six years if they equipped their truck fleets with the new shock absorbers.