The Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation recognizes Lei Zuo, an associate professor of mechanical engineering in the College of Engineering, for his work harvesting energy from ocean waves and even shock absorbers.
Zuo is the director of the Energy Harvesting and Mechatronics Research Lab in the College of Engineering. He was recently named a Fellow of ASME, short for the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. Fellowship is the highest elected grade of the society’s membership and can only be conferred on people with at least 10 years of active engineering practice who have made significant contributions to the profession.
His energy-harvesting shock absorber, for example, works by translating the vertical vibrations of the suspension into rotational motion that turns a generator. The generator delivers electricity directly to the car’s battery or electrical devices, reducing the demand on the alternator.
He and his students have tested the shock absorber on campus roads. Their current model, which the students built with off-the-shelf components, can harvest about 60 percent of the available energy. Zuo estimates that a car’s shock absorbers could provide between 100 watts and 400 watts of energy on normal roads. By comparison, the average cell phone call uses about 1 watt.
Zuo, who is affiliated with the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, won a 2011 R&D 100 Award — widely recognized as “the Oscar” for inventors — for his research on energy-harvesting shock absorbers. He received the award again in 2015 for an innovation on ocean wave energy harvesting.
Since 2014, he has received the ASME Thar Energy Design Award for pioneering research on energy harvesting, the Society of Automotive Engineers Ralph R. Teetor Educational Award, a P3 Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the ASME Best Paper Award on Structures and Structural Dynamics, and the Winner of the Best Technology Development of Energy Harvesting from Harvesting and Storage USA Conferences.
Zuo joined Virginia Tech in 2014 after six years at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, and four years as a senior research scientist at Abbott Laboratories in Chicago. He has authored more than 130 research papers and holds five U.S. patents. Zuo has received over $8 million in research grant funding from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Office of Naval Research, state agencies, and industry. He received his doctoral degree in mechanical engineering in 2005 and two master’s degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering in 2002 from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Tsinghua University, Beijing, China in 1997.