Renewable energy storage revolutionised by flywheel device

A flywheel-based device invented by a Lancaster University student could help solve the renewable energy storage problem, offering a better alternative to battery technology. 

The Flywheel Energy Store, designed by 21-year-old Abigail Carson, retains energy kinetically in a levitating floating mass. The flywheel, about the size of a football, doesn’t require any additional control mechanisms, inputs or maintenance.

“The global energy crisis is the biggest and most urgent problem that needs addressing,” said Carson, who is awaiting a patent for the device. “The Flywheel Energy Store can be used for a vast range of applications – most significantly in providing energy security and independence for everyone globally, but also including eliminating waste in power networks, pumping water to villages and allowing for cleaner cooking and heating in developing countries, instant charging of electric vehicles, and off-grid energy storage.”

Carson’s flywheel can rotate at up to 144,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). The majority of existing flywheel designs usually achieve a maximum of around 60,000rpm.

In its current football-sized form, the device is mostly suitable for domestic use. However, the young engineer believes it could be easily scaled up for industrial applications by stacking multiple devices into a large network. The network approach would be convenient as the system would not be compromised in case of a malfunction of a single or even multiple units.

Carson said the lifespan of the FES, estimated to be about 30 years, would be much higher than that of battery-based storage technologies.

“Batteries cannot withstand power transfer pattern variations – they suffer very badly from charging and discharging abuse,” said Carson. “This is not a problem for the FES, which is virtually immune to this sort of abuse.”

FES, Carson said, also offers a much higher ramping rate, the ability to charge and discharge energy extremely fast.

“This is important when large amounts of energy are needed, such as smoothing out supply and demand on large energy networks,” she said.

“In addition, my FES has a design that can be recycled – which is impossible for batteries.”

According to Carson’s project supervisor, Professor Jianqiao Ye, who is the Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster University, the invention demonstrates how modernising traditional technology could help solve 21st-century problems.

 “The system designed by Miss Carson has a number of important features, including portable, green and an impressively high efficiency,” Ye said. “The system, after some market-orientated developments, could find a broad range of applications, ranging from domestic devices, large scale industry to general infrastructure."

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