Flywheel energy storage

Flywheel Energy Storage (FES) works by accelerating a rotor (flywheel) to a very high speed and maintaining the energy in the system as rotational energy. The energy is converted back by slowing down the flywheel.

Most FES systems use electricity to accelerate and decelerate the flywheel, but devices that directly use mechanical energy are being developed.

Advanced FES systems have rotors made of high strength carbon-composite filaments that spin at speeds from 20,000 to over 50,000 rpm in a vacuum enclosure and use magnetic bearings. Such flywheels can come up to speed in a matter of minutes -- much quicker than some other forms of energy storage.

Flywheel energy storage is all about the conversion of energy generated by motion, the kinetic energy into the most expensive energy, the electricity. Kinetic energy gets accumulated in the flywheel energy storage system by the continuous rotation of a small motor in a low-friction background. This accumulated kinetic energy gets converted to electricity by the continuous gyrating of rotor, once an interim back-up power is needed due to power failure or oscillations in power.

The incorporation of the tasks of a motor, flywheel rotor and a generator into a single built-in system is the basic theory behind the Active Power's CleanSource® Flywheel Technology. As per it’s working, motor draws power from the electric supply to continuously revolve the flywheel, the constant source of kinetic energy. This kinetic energy gets translated to electricity by the generator. The advantage of all-in-one technology is that the cost can be cut down drastically as well as the product efficiency can be improved.

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These set of artificial polymers finds its use in almost all walks of our everyday life, be it related to the food packaging industry, the film industry, fibre, tube or pipe industry etc. Personal care industry also takes advantage from this plastic revolution related to areas like the texture of products, binding and moisture retention. The term plastic explosion refers to the manufacturing of polymers like the Acrylic, polyethylene etc.



In the 1950s flywheel-powered buses, known as gyrobuses, were used in Yverdon, Switzerland, and there is ongoing research to make flywheel systems that are smaller, lighter, cheaper, and have a greater capacity. It is hoped that flywheel systems can replace conventional chemical batteries for mobile applications, such as for electric vehicles. Proposed flywheel systems would eliminate many of the disadvantages of existing battery power systems, such as low capacity, long charge times, heavy weight, and short usable lifetimes. Flywheels may have been used in the experimental Chrysler Patriot, though that has been disputed.

Recently, there has been a new incentive to develop continuously variable transmissions (CVTs) for use in the new kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS) proposed for Formula One motor racing. (In 2009, F1 is introducing new rules that will lower the environmental impact of the sport. Part of this is to recover deceleration energy that can be stored for acceleration.)

Flywheel systems have also been used experimentally in small electric locomotives for shunting or switching, e.g. the Sentinel-Oerlikon Gyro Locomotive. Larger electric locomotives, e.g. British Rail Class 70, have sometimes been fitted with flywheel boosters to carry them over gaps in the third rail. Advanced flywheels, such as the 133 kWh pack of the University of Texas at Austin, can take a train from a standing start up to cruising speed.

The Parry People Mover is a railcar which may be powered by a flywheel. It was trialed on Sundays for 12 months on the Stourbridge Town Branch Line in the West Midlands, England during 2006 and 2007, and will be introduced as a full service by the train operator London Midland in December 2008 once two units have been ordered.

Uninterruptible power supply

Flywheel power storage systems in current production (2001) have storage capacities comparable to batteries and faster discharge rates. They are mainly used to provide load leveling for large battery systems, such as an uninterruptible power supply and for maintaining power quality in renewable energy systems. Developers of such flywheel energy storage systems include Active Power,Piller Power Systems GmbH, Beacon Power, Hitec Power Protection,, Piller, Powercorp, VYCON and SOCOMEC.COM

Flywheel maintenance in general runs about one-half the cost of traditional battery UPS systems. The only maintenance is a basic annual preventive maintenance routine and replacing the bearings every three years, which takes about four hours.


A long-standing niche market for flywheel power systems are facilities where circuit-breakers and similar devices are tested: even a small household circuit-breaker may be rated to interrupt a current of 10,000 or more amperes, and larger units may be have interrupting ratings of 100,000 or 1,000,000 amperes. Obviously the enormous transient loads produced by deliberately forcing such devices to demonstrate their ability to interrupt simulated short circuits would have unacceptable effects on the local grid if these tests were done directly off building power. So typically such a laboratory will have several large motor-generator sets, which can be spun-up to speed over some minutes; then the motor is disconnected before a circuit-breaker is tested. Other similar applications are in tokamak and laser experiments, where very high currents are also used for very brief intervals.

Amusement Ride

The Incredible Hulk roller coaster at Universal's Islands of Adventure features a rapidly accelerating uphill launch as opposed to the typical gravity drop. This is achieved through powerful traction motors that throw the car up the track. To achieve the brief very high current required to accelerate a full coaster train to full speed uphill, the park utilizes several motor generator sets with large flywheels. Without these stored energy units, the park would have to invest in a new substation and risk browning-out the local energy grid every time the ride launches.

Pulse power

Since FES can store and release energy quickly, they have found a niche providing pulsed power (see compulsator).

Motor sports

The FIA has included the use of KERS (see kinetic energy recovery system) as part of its Formula 1 2009 Sporting Regulations. Using a CVT (see continuously variable transmission), energy is recovered from the drive train during braking and stored in a flywheel. This stored energy is then used during acceleration by altering the ratio of the CVT.. In motor sports applications this energy is used to improve acceleration rather than reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions - although the same technology can be applied to road cars to improve fuel efficiency.

Advantages and disadvantages

Flywheels are not affected by temperature changes as are chemical rechargeable batteries, nor do they suffer from memory effect. They are also less potentially damaging to the environment, being made of largely inert or benign materials. Another advantage of flywheels is that by a simple measurement of the rotation speed it is possible to know the exact amount of energy stored. However, use of flywheel accumulators is currently hampered by the danger of explosive shattering of the massive wheel due to overload.

One of the primary limits to flywheel design is the tensile strength of the material used for the rotor. Generally speaking, the stronger the disc, the faster it may be spun, and the more energy the system can store. When the tensile strength of a flywheel is exceeded the flywheel will shatter, releasing all of its stored energy at once; this is commonly referred to as "flywheel explosion" since wheel fragments can reach kinetic energy comparable to that of a bullet. Consequently, traditional flywheel systems require strong containment vessels as a safety precaution, which increases the total mass of the device. Fortunately, composite materials tend to disintegrate quickly once broken, and so instead of large chunks of high-velocity shrapnel one simply gets a containment vessel filled with red-hot sand. Still, many customers of modern flywheel power storage systems prefer to have them embedded in the ground to halt any material that might escape the containment vessel.

When used in vehicles, flywheels also act as gyroscopes, since their angular momentum is typically of a similar order of magnitude as the forces acting on the moving vehicle. This property may be detrimental to the vehicle's handling characteristics while turning. On the other hand, this property could be utilised to improve stability in curves. Conversely, the effect can be almost completely removed by mounting the flywheel within an appropriately applied set of gimbals, where the angular momentum is conserved without affecting the vehicle (see Properties of a gyroscope).

An alternative solution to the problem is to have two joined flywheels spinning synchronously in opposite directions. They would have a total angular momentum of zero and no gyroscopic effect. However, problems arise when the difference between the momentum of each flywheel is anything other than zero. Both wheels must be maintained at the same speed to maintain this advantage. Strictly speaking, two flywheels would exert a huge torqueing moment around the central point, trying to bend the axle. However, if the axle were sufficiently strong, no gyroscopic forces would have a net effect on the sealed container, so no torque would be measured externally.