Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Laboratory


Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Lab


Department of Mechanical Engineering
311 Durham Hall
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061

Lei Zuo, Ph.D.

Welcome and Mission


Prof Lei Zuo won three research commercialization grants from the same program Virginia Commonwealth Research Commercialization Fund (CRCF), all on energy harvesting: ocean wave (as PI with co-PIs Prof Rob Parker and Prof Khai Ngo), railway (as PI), and piezoelectrics (as co-PI with PI Tian-Bing Xu at NIA),  announced by Governor McAuliffe.  (06/10/2016).

Current Postdoc and Research Fellows

Dr. Wei Che Tai, PhD 2014, University of Washington, Seattle, Postdoc Fellow

Dr. Xiuxing Yin, PhD 2016, Zhejiang University, China, Postdoc Fellow

Dr. Gangfeng Tan, Associate Professor at Wuhan University of Technology

Dr. Long Wu, Professor at Sanming University

  • Ocean Wave Energy Harvesting with a Novel Power Takeoff

    Ocean Wave Energy Harvesting with a Novel Power Takeoff
    Ocean wave energy potential in the US is 64% of the total electricity generated from all sources in 2010. Over 53% of the US population lives within 50 miles of a coast, so ocean waves offer exceptional opportunity. For wave energy generation equipment alone, the annual worldwide market is over $150B.  Quite different from wind energy, the ocean wave energy is concentrated at low frequencies and at low, alternating velocities. Ocean wave energy harvesting remains in relative infancy.  One of the most important challenges is the power takeoff mechanism, which “…is possibly the single most important element in wave energy technology, and underlies many (possibly most) of the failures to date.”

    This project seeks a revolutionary advance by designing, prototyping, and validating an innovative ocean wave power takeoff based on a mechanical motion rectifier (MMR). This mechanism, patented by Lei Zuo, directly converts the irregular oscillatory wave motion into unidirectional generator rotation. By solving the challenges caused by irregular, bi-directional wave motion, the MMR will yield high-energy conversion efficiency, enhanced reliability, unmatched compactness, and optimal electrical grid integration. A multiple disciplinary approach is being taken for fundamental research in marine hydrodynamics, mechanical design, vibration dynamics, control system, power electronics, and environment assessment. This project won the 2014 EPA P3 Award and was selected as the 2014 Winner of Best Technology Development of Large-Scale Energy Harvesting. (NSF, EPA, DOE)

  • Energy Harvesting and Control of Wind-Induced Vibration of Tall Buildings

    Energy Harvesting and Control of Wind-Induced Vibration of Tall Buildings
    The objective of this project is to develop a dual-functional approach to efficiently harvest utility-scale energy and at the same time to effectively mitigate the wind-induced vibrations of large structures like high-rise buildings. Tall buildings, slender towers, and long bridges, being susceptible to dynamic wind load effects, can experience large vibrations. To reduce these vibrations in a building, a popular approach is to utilize a large mass at the top as a tuned mass damper which absorbs some energy in its own motion and dissipates the rest as wasted heat in a damper. In this project, a unique approach is proposed to provide enhanced structural response suppression by converting the dissipated vibration energy into electricity by using a series of optimally configured electricity-generating tuned mass dampers.

    To optimize the performance of the dampers in energy harvesting and structural control, the project will conduct a comprehensive study of the dynamics and energy analysis of structures with proposed tuned mass dampers, will design efficient electromagnetic energy transducers for harvesting and connecting to the building’s or structure’s power grid, and will develop a complete semi-active self-powered vibration control system. The proposed research is multi-disciplinary as it blends concepts of structural, mechanical, power system, and electrical engineering for designing an optimal system for energy harvesting to enhance sustainability in structural designs, and for controlling structures to enhance their safety and reliability. (NSF)

  • Energy-Harvesting Vehicle Shock Absorbers

    Energy-Harvesting Vehicle Shock Absorbers
    In the USA there are over 255 million ground vehicles, which consume 170 billion gallons of fuel per year, or 44% of US oil (DOT data 2011).  However, only 10-16% energy of the fuel burned by cars is used to drive the vehicles – to overcome the resistance from road friction and air drag (DOE and EPA data). Besides the thermal inefficiency of the engines, one important mechanism of energy loss in automobiles is the dissipation of kinetic energy during vehicle vibration and motion.

    We estimated that for a middle-size vehicle, 100W and 400W of average power is available for harvesting from the regenerative shock absorbers while driving on Class B (good) and C (average) roads at 60 mph, which is comparable with the car alternators (500-600W). And the energy potential for trucks, rail cars, and off-road vehicles is on the order of 1kW-10kW. This represents a potential of 1-6% fuel efficiency increase. The objective is to establish an energy-harvesting vehicle suspension technology to improve the fuel efficiency and to significantly enhance the ride comfort and vehicle safety through self-powered suspension control. We have designed both linear and rotational electromagnetic shock absorbers with high energy density, and demonstrated 15W average and 100 peak power from one shock absorber of a SUV on the smooth paved road.  Our work has been highlighted by several public news media including, PhysOrg, IOPscience, New York Times, MIT Technology Review and Winner of the prestigious R&D 100 Award by the R&D Magazine in 2011. We also won the Award of Best Technology Development of Energy Harvesting in the conference of Energy Harvesting and Storage USA. (NYSERDA, CIT, Ford Motor)

  • Energy Harvesting from the Vibration of Railway Tracks

    Energy Harvesting from the Vibration of Railway Tracks
    The railroad transportation, including freight rail, intercity passenger train, commuter rail and subway, plays a very important role in the economy and quality of life for the people. To facilitate policy makers and transportation agencies to make informed decisions on operating and managing the transportation system, electric infrastructures are necessary along the railway tracks, such as the signal lights, road crossing gates, wireless communication, train and track monitoring, positive train control, etc. Unfortunately, the cost-effective and reliable power supply needed for the electrical infrastructures remains a challenge, since significant portion of the rails are in relative remote areas, in the underground tunnels, or on the bridges, where the energy needed to power electric infrastructure is uneconomical to install and maintain.  This project aims at developing an advanced technology of energy harvesting from railway track vibrations to meet the regional and industry-wide need of access to cost-effective and reliable power supply for the track-side electrical infrastructures of rail transportation. The proposed method is to design and integrate an innovative energy harvesting mechanism, fly wheel, electric generator, power electronics and energy storage to produce high-quality DC power up to hundred watts from the irregular and pulse-like track deflections.  Full-scale prototypes have been developed and demonstrated. This project won the award of Best Application of Energy Harvester and has been covered in many news medias, including ASME Mechanical Magazine. (US DOT/UTRC, NYSERDA, CIT)

  • Thermoelectric Energy Generators for Vehicle Applications

    Thermoelectric Energy Generators for Vehicle Applications: Integrated Design and Manufacturing
    A variety of studies have shown that recovering vehicle waste heat can be successfully used to produce electricity using solid state thermoelectric generators (TEG) to supplement the vehicle’s electrical demands, resulting 5-10% fuel savings.  The exhaust system, however, presents unique challenges for integrating thermoelectric devices, including materials, thermal management, interface, and durability.  The objective of the proposed project is to develop an innovative solution to fabricate functional TE materials and structures onto exhaust pipes in a rapid, economical, and industrially scalable manner. The proposed approach is based on the recent progress developed by an interdisciplinary team, including non-equilibrium material synthesis of bulk materials with rapid quenching, thermal spray of thick films, laser micromachining for feature patterning, and integrated thermal and mechanical design. The central concept is to fabricate TE structures directly onto exhaust system components, which will result in excellent interface adhesion between material layers that is intrinsically strong, and with no adhesives or mechanical clamping required. Cylindrical exhaust components are readily fabricated with the process, making integration into existing vehicle exhaust systems straightforward and inexpensive. The non-equilibrium material process is expected to enable high figure-of-merit TE couples economically manufactured from abundant materials at low-cost. (NSF, DOE)

Laboratory address and students offices:

Department of Mechanical Engineering
311 Durham Hall
Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA 24061

Department of Mechanical Engineering
College of Engineering, Virginia Tech
635 Prices Fork Road, Blacksburg, VA 24061