Engineering student designs revolutionary energy storage solution

August 2, 2016
Credit: Lancaster University

A Lancaster engineering undergraduate has invented a new storage solution that could provide the missing-link needed for a renewable energy revolution.

The market in the US alone is estimated to be worth $200-600billion in 10 years. While most research and development efforts have been focused on improving battery technologies, a Lancaster student believes a mechanical solution could provide the answer.

Abigail Carson, 21, who has completed her third year studying Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster, has created a superfast design for a Flywheel Energy Store (FES). The design, which was a self-proposed project as part of her MEng degree course, could have a wide number of uses, most notably for the storage of electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind turbines or solar panels.

"The global energy crisis is the biggest and most urgent problem that needs addressing," said Miss Carson. "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."

The FES retains energy kinetically in a levitated floating mass. The rotor, which can be made from composites such as carbon fibre, is permanently levitated as opposed to electromagnetically, not requiring additional control mechanisms and so does not need maintenance or user input. A smart telemetry set (monitoring equipment) would be included.

From simulations and calculations, the power rating of the FES can be tailored and has the potential to reach the substantial MegaWatt range. Although with the initial aim of rotating at 100,000rpm, Miss Carson's figures show her design can easily rotate at 144,000rpm without any adjustment - this is massively more powerful and quicker than most existing designs, which can spin at around 60,000rpm.

Miss Carson's design is a unit around the size of a football, which is ideal for domestic uses. However, the potential can be scaled up to industrial applications through a stacking approach – using many units together on the same network to provide a bigger energy store. Using multiple individual units means that if one was affected, the whole system would not need shutting down – a key advantage on some huge single unit systems.

The FES also offers several advantages over other , such as batteries.

"The lifespan of the FES is around 30 years, which is much longer than that for batteries," said Miss Carson. "Batteries cannot withstand power transfer pattern variations – they suffer very badly from charging and discharging abuse. This is not a problem for the FES, which is virtually immune to this sort of abuse.

"Batteries are unable to match the ramping rate (how quickly the energy can be charged or discharged) of a FES. This is important for when large amounts of energy are needed, such as smoothing out supply and demand on large energy networks.

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

Professor Jianqiao Ye, Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster University and Miss Carson's project supervisor, said: "I am very pleased to see that Abi has moved from idea to patent of her innovative design that has shown great potentials. She worked through it by taking advantages of our nationally high-ranked program, as a part of her third year research and design project. I am looking forward to further development of her new FES and wish her very successful in marketing her invention.

"This invention demonstrates how a traditional technology, such as a flywheel energy store system, can be modernised to meet current demand on storage of clean from renewable or sustainable sources. The system designed by Miss Carson has a number of important features, including portable, green and an impressively high efficiency. The system, after some market-orientated developments, could find a broad range of applications, ranging from domestic devices, large scale industry to general infrastructure.

"As a general engineering department, all our students are exposed to design process through a variety of activities that encourage and support students to develop creative solutions for the real world. Abi's invention has clearly demonstrated what we have believed."

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25 comments

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loneislander
2.3 / 5 (3) Aug 02, 2016
Ok, do I want something spinning 100,000 a minute anywhere near where I live? How many deployed hours before a flaw shows up in a massive explosion? Show me a picture. Show me the reason why someone thinks this is safe.... it's irresponsible to write such an article and leave all of the dangerous details to the speculation of the reader - instead of filling this article with boilerplate ("Professor Jianqiao Ye, Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster University and Miss Carson's project supervisor, said: "I am very pleased to see that Abi has moved from idea to patent of her innovative design that has shown great potentials.") fill it with facts, ideas, and condensed descriptions of why this is engineerable. Ferfucksakes!!
SiDawg
5 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2016
"permanently levitated as opposed to electromagnetically", "does not need maintenance or user input"

I love the idea of storing energy en-mass kenetically... much more elegant than dirty old batteries... Is this invention using fixed magnets to both levitate the rotor and keep it away from the sides of a vacuum housing? And I guess "powering up/down" is achieved from moving coils close enough to the rotar then away again when not powering up/down? Wouldn't that create maintenance? Or maybe if the coils are fixed... can you just switch between in/rest/out electronically maybe by feeding a current, blocking a current, or accepting a current? hmmm *ponder*

More details please :)
Whydening Gyre
4.5 / 5 (8) Aug 03, 2016
I just think it's cool...
marcush
5 / 5 (6) Aug 03, 2016
It sounds great. I hope it gets commercialized.
Edenlegaia
5 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2016
Ok, do I want something spinning 100,000 a minute anywhere near where I live? How many deployed hours before a flaw shows up in a massive explosion? Show me a picture. Show me the reason why someone thinks this is safe....


I see the word "safe" nowhere in the article....or did i misread?
It just shows potential in that kind of work, of ideas. From what i understood, her concept needed improvements, and had room for that. She just found a way to store energy with more efficiency than with batteries, and damn, that sounds promising.
If there's enough work on it with more funds and people, surely they can create something safe, something which will not blow up or else.
A Safe Ultra Energy Ball, maybe?
dirk_bruere
1 / 5 (1) Aug 03, 2016
There is absolutely nothing new about this.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2016
Ok, do I want something spinning 100,000 a minute anywhere near where I live?

If it's housed outside your home inside a reinforced structure then this might be OK.
The permanent levitating approach is certainly a good idea from a maintenance aspect (something that has always plagued flywheel designs). But it doesn't need a flaw for this to disintegrate spectacularly. Think about a minor earthquake. You'd have all of these units in the affected area go 'boom' at once.

I've seen what rapidly spinning objects do when they touches something they aren't supposed to. Someone had mounted a sawblade for wood (designed for 300rpm) in a sawblade machine for metal (going at 3000rpm) at a place I had an internship at. The room looke like someone had thrown a grenade in there. Luckily no one died.

On another note: kinetic storage doesn't scale as well as, e.g., flow batteries. I think flow batteries/fuel cells will be the future for large scale energy storage.
ab3a
3.5 / 5 (2) Aug 03, 2016
This has been done before in vehicles. It used a Kevlar ball with permanent magnet suspension, and electric field coils to spin up and draw down from a rotor in a vacuum. However, it had to be mounted on a gimbal because even if the device stands still, it would stay oriented in one position while the earth rotates.

This notion is quite clever, but it's not new. I seem to recall having seen it at least 25 years ago. And as always, everyone is rightfully scared of a rotating mass with huge energies in it. And they should be.
BrettC
5 / 5 (4) Aug 03, 2016
As a storage medium, batteries can also be quite dangerous. Especially batteries with enough capacity to run a home. Although the safety precautions would be quite different. Also, some of the newer battery storage systems, such as the Flow batteries mentioned above, seem inherently safer.
Lord_jag
5 / 5 (5) Aug 05, 2016
Re dangers:

So get yourself a borehole digger, go down 10 ft below any foundation work, line the hole with plastic pipe with an end cap on it so it doesn't get water in it and run wires to the system at the bottom of the hole.

Total cost less than $500 and now even if it explodes spectacularly, the shrapnel gets embedded in the earth deep underground.
howhot3
5 / 5 (2) Aug 05, 2016
I don't know about all the claims in the article but I wouldn't swallow the whole thing as something new and revolutionary. With all fly-wheel energy storage systems, friction is the killer, that and physics (eg. If you rotate something beyond the centripetal force that exceeds the material tensile strength, the thing will explode). Similarly too much energy removal too quickly would over heat the system from friction. The article doesn't reference any sources, so good luck. I hope that patent works well for you.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2016
We have had flywheel storage systems for decades. They are used for sensitive equipment. This is an improvement.
meerling
not rated yet Aug 06, 2016
Sorry, but I didn't see anything mentioned that was new or patentable about this flywheel system.
If I missed it, I'd appreciate someone pointing out exactly what it is.
antialias_physorg
4.3 / 5 (6) Aug 06, 2016
Sorry, but I didn't see anything mentioned that was new or patentable about this flywheel system.
If I missed it

Mayb the article just uses 'revolutionary' in the literal sense?
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2016
I think it is size and simplicity. Current flywheels are larger, not easily moved, and expensive.
LifeBasedLogic
Aug 06, 2016
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 06, 2016
" life is truth"
------------------------

Francisco Franco is dead, and that's the truth.
Da Schneib
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 07, 2016
Turns out this is not her first invention. Her previous one made shock absorbers obsolete. Might want to check this one pretty carefully @howhot. I think it doesn't have friction because it uses magnetic levitation, and if it's inside an evacuated containment then it doesn't even have air friction. Your point about material strength is well taken, but a good design can overcome that too.

We may have a genius designer here. I was pretty impressed with the shock absorber thing.
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 07, 2016
They have been levitated for decades now. Her thing, I think, was making it small and portable.
marcush
not rated yet Aug 07, 2016
I agree with just digging a hole. Seems like a very simple solution for the possibility of destruction.
MikeOregon
5 / 5 (1) Aug 08, 2016
A core issue with a flywheel going 100,000 RPM is the strength of the material, the forces could be tremendous: F = mrω2, or angular velocity squared. But the article didn't mention anything about this issue?
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2016
Large flywheels have been used for decades in data centers. I got to watch as two competing salesman for a low-speed system and a high-speed system fought it out in a forum, . . . literally.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.7 / 5 (3) Aug 08, 2016
gkam1 / 5 (4)
Large flywheels have been used for decades in data centers. I got to watch as two competing salesman for a low-speed system and a high-speed system fought it out in a forum, . . . literally.
Lets see... thats at least 4 people who dont give a shit.

And how many more read your little anecdotes and dont comment because they also dont give a shit?
gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2016
Apparently, you do.

gkam
1 / 5 (5) Aug 08, 2016
Flywheels today are made of composites, which allows the very high rotation speeds.

I do not understand how airlines can lose their computers, since all are backed up redundantly. Some companies run mirror data centers hundreds of miles apart doing exactly the same thing, so if one goes down they can be switched. Inside these they use redundancy for power and cooling, as well as carry-over devices such as flywheels.

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