High-Efficiency Personal Vehicles

As we near the end of the first 6 weeks of the K-12 school year, students of our STEMulate Learning workshops who have Senior or larger projects (Science Fair projects, Merit Badges, Eagle / Gold Award projects for Scouting, etc) are working to complete of in many cases to identify projects that have not already been done many times by other young persons. I have been sharing many of my own earlier design efforts in order to inspire ideas the students might make use of, and I encourage all Makers to share their ideas and to take inspiration from modern creatives like Elon Musk, who chose to release many of his designs as Open Source.

This line of research comes from one of the offshoots of my early alternative energy systems developed originally after a visit to the “Water Street” project in Tucson, AZ, in 1976. I have discussed many of the designs, meant to provide energy, potable water, and other “basic” needs for life and comfort in the modern age which was a “hot” item during the 1970’s and early 1980’s due to the OPEC issues around fossil fuels but which has since become more significant as easily available fossil fuel fields become more scarce and foreign interests increase competition for the same resources. The design was collected from a number of small items and originally proposed in 2006 as one of a number of entries to the Popular Science magazine competition for user-sourced ideas.


Modifications to improve the efficiency of electric and hybrid-electric personal transportation, originally ignored fossil-fueled vehicles, but many modern cars are highly electrical in operation and secondary support systems.

Hydraulic Suspension

Electric, hybrid-electric, and fuel cell vehicles continue to lag the efficiency of internal combustion vehicles. Attempts to create more efficient electric systems include full-body photovoltaic skins, regenerative braking capturing kinetic energy into battery power, and reduced weight materials. A number of other opportunities exist to improve efficiency by capturing energy currently lost to heat and stress on the vehicle – in effect, recovering lost energy from the vehicle itself.


Piezoelectric strips located within a vehicle’s tires can recover energy lost to heat, while similar systems in the vehicle’s seats and suspension can recover energy generated through vehicular movement and the movement of passengers in response to vehicular maneuvering.


Within the shock absorbers, fixed permanent magnets moving through coils or fluid driven through hydraulic pistons will produce recoverable electricity while also damping motion and improving the efficiency of lightweight shock absorbers. I understand that a number of young designers in college successfully implemented this design in the last few years, but do not know if it is a direct derivative of this design or simply another iteration of the same basic concept.


A solid-state cooling system can eliminate the need for a compressor and the CFC-based traditional air conditioner. Utilizing a Peltier heat pump element, this system allows temperature regulation within the vehicle using a single moving part – the internal fan.


A photovoltaic panel alongside the external heat sink allows internal temperatures to be constantly maintained within a safe range without depleting the battery.


Excess energy can be returned to the batteries when available. This system can also be easily modified for use in low-profile home cooling systems. The original testing of this design was intended to produce an automotive application for stabilizing vehicular internal temperature for passenger comfort and safety (particular in the case of infants).

Many designs offer the potential for energy savings and energy recovery in commercial and personal vehicles, while similar systems can be included in buildings and home structures. In this tightening-belt time, opportunities for improvements are pervasive and should be considered in addition to attempts for supplant of traditional power sources entirely.

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