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Regenerative Brake-Type Systems

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Regenerative Brake-type Systems
Brian Seibert
Miami-Jacobs Career College


As I started brakes classes in college, I expected to be relearning all that I already knew about brake systems and how they work. How to do a brake job and how to identify a problem. Little did I know of how much technology has changed between the cars of today and the older cars ta I am used to repairing. When the concept of regenerative braking was explained by my teacher, I was blown away by the concept. As with all present day automotive systems, even braking has become computerized. The sensors, boosters, and even the connecting levers of the brake pedal itself has been replaced by an array of computers, sensors, and actuators to perform the same duties with less effort required of the driver. The latest brake-by-wire technology along with a deceleration tactic used by commercial drivers for decades has led to this leap in technology. For decades drivers have downshifted the transmission to use the engine RPM along with the taller (lower) gear to slow their trucks down from high speed. This method is commonly referred to as engine or trans-braking. The process jerks the engine and transmission, and is not a very comfortable ride for the vehicle's passengers. Engine braking has another downfall, it doesn't work very well on the automatic transmissions in passenger cars and can be detrimental to the health of the transmission. The smooth operation of the electric power plant in hybrid-electric vehicles as well as modern innovations in automotive network systems in today's more technical vehicles allow for computer-synced downshifting to assist braking with no more discomfort than depressing the pedal on a standard anti-lock braking system. This paper will explore the functionality of regenerative braking systems both from the pedal to the brake pad as we are so accustomed, as well as from the brake rotor to the transmission control module which is were new technology is taking us, everything traces back to the computer.

For almost a century, professional over-the-road drivers have been downshifting their transmissions in order to assist in deceleration and save the brakes from excessive wear. A technique similar to this was used by trolly car operators to slow their cars on the rails when riding through areas with large hills. Their method involved turning off the electric motor and using the drag from the engine to slow them down. In the modern world of automotive technology, we are constantly striving to find ways of making our vehicles more efficient, so when looking for a better design for braking systems on passenger cars, the engineers borrowed from this old technology, added some new, and came out with something that not only stops the car, but has a few added benefits. Regenerative braking systems also generate power to recharge the vehicle's battery.

Regenerative brake systems are mainly found in hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles. The reasons for this are not only due to the smoother operation of the electric motor versus the internal combustion engine, but because no other vehicles use the high amount of energy that these platforms consume. These systems do not work by downshifting per say, as electric motors do not rotate while the car is not under load, it only spins when power is applied to it by depressing the accelerator pedal. Logically, when you release the accelerator pedal while driving the motor stops rotating under it's own power, and rotates using the kinetic energy from the drive wheels. This causes drag and slowly decelerates the vehicle. These characteristics of starting and stopping using the motor is similar to electric bumper cars. This principal generates drag and still drains a small amount of power (surface charge) from the electrical system, so how does it generate power?

The way an electric motor works is by taking a controlled power input to an electric motor which then rotates and produces mechanical energy (torque). These same motors, when run in the opposite direction work backwards. Rather than using electric energy, it becomes a generator and produces electric energy. When driving a vehicle with one of these systems, you approach a stop light and press the brake pedal. The brake pedal position sensor sends a signal to the brake control module telling it that you want to stop. The module then sends the commands to the powertrain control module, which tells the transmission to engage the clutch, drop shift to reverse when the electric motor stops turning, then release the clutch. This action uses the drive wheels to spin the motor backwards, using the drag to stop the vehicle, and back feeding the electricity that is generated back through the electrical system and back to the battery, effectively acting as an additional alternator. In essence this process converts mechanical energy back into electrical energy. The laws of matter state that energy cannot be created or destroyed, therefore the kinetic energy of a moving vehicle must be converted. Most brake systems convert kinetic energy into heat by use of friction. This is the only one that converts kinetic energy to electricity.

Anyone who has personally experienced a driver engine-braking a vehicle from the passenger seat knows that it is a rough ride. The vehicle jumps, skips, and rapid deceleration feels like you are being launched through the windshield. Not to mention, it can wreak havoc on the gears within a manual transmission. Worse yet, on an automatic transmission, it can render it completely inoperative. So wouldn't shifting into reverse be even more rough than say second gear? Not in this world of modern technology. The smoother operation of the electric motor, the ability to operate smoothly in either direction, along with computer controlled clutch timing and adjustment maintain a smooth stopping rate that doesn't exceed -.2Gs, rather comfortable by anyone's standards. This is enough to completely stop the vehicle under normal conditions. Can regenerative brakes replace the disk and drum brakes that we use today? The answer is no. Beyond the need for a parking brake, there are several other reasons for needing some form of friction brake. Let's head back to our hybrid car and the stop light. Only this time, it isn't a stop light. This time, someone's dog decides to run out in the road. You panic and slam on the brakes. The brake pedal position sensor tells the brake module that you need to stop now. The powertrain control module still engages the regenerative brake system through the transmission but the system cannot create enough stopping power without damaging the reverse gear or excessively slowing the electric motor, defeating it's purpose of generating power. In this case, the brake control module also engages a hydraulic, friction based anti-lock brake system to provide instant stopping power. Once the vehicle comes to a stop, the standard brakes disengage and the regenerative system takes control. While this doesn't mean that we will never have to buy brake parts or do a brake job again, but brake wear is considerably reduced by using this system, so at least we won't be doing it as often.

As the future of the automobile continues to be written, new technology continues to inspire. Computers get faster and more efficient, electric motors run side by side or even in place of gasoline engines. This increases the demand for electricity by the automobile to astronomical proportions. A typical gas-powered car uses a 12.6 volt battery, whereas a full electric or hybrid vehicle can utilize up to a 300 volt battery. This means that we have to now find a way to make the electrically dependent vehicles more energy efficient. From humble beginnings of replacing standard light bulbs with LED lighting assemblies, to using the electric motor as a generator we continue to decrease the vehicle's need to “plug in” to the electrical outlet. Maybe one day these vehicles will use regenerative brakes, an alternator, and electric generators in the wheel hubs themselves to finally attain the scientific improbability of perpetual motion.


Continental Automotive - Regenerative Brake System. (n.d.). Retrieved from
HowStuffWorks "How Regenerative Braking Works". (n.d.). Retrieved from
Regenerative brake - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2013, from…...

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