According to a recent report from Forbes, the global energy storage sector is poised for massive growth. Some experts predict that the next decade will see the US market alone reach $200-600 billion in value. While most research and development efforts in the energy storage sector have lingered on the improvement of batteries as storage units, Lancaster University engineering undergrad Abigail Carson’s final year project may present a more sustainable solution for the storage of electricity.
Carson’s design, the Flywheel Energy Storage (FES) unit is based on a device whose invention predates all batteries: the flywheel, a mechanical device used to store rotational energy. When spun at high enough speeds, it becomes a reservoir for massive amounts of kinetic energy that can be stored. The development demonstrates how the modern application of traditional technology can aid in solving a host of 21st century problems.
“It has the same basic principles [as the traditional flywheel] – at the heart is a rotating mass,” Carson said in an interview with Dexmatech. “Electrical energy is transformed into kinetic energy, and stored in that form. The energy can then be transformed back into electrical form and drawn at will.”
While earlier flywheel systems used a steel rotor, Carson’s design has a unique ability utilise composites like carbon fibre. The football sized FES unit also has the capacity to spin at speeds of up to 144,00rpm – more than double the speed of most current designs, which are limited to about 60,00rpm. Its size makes it ideal for domestic use and the individual units are easily stackable to form an even greater reaching modular system.
100 per cent recyclable, the FES units boast a 30-year lifespan, far longer than most batteries. According to Carson, the design could be used for a vast range of applications. It could also help to provide energy security and independence, eliminate energy waste in power networks, and allow for cleaner cooking and heating in developing countries.
The design, part of a self-proposed undergrad project, has the potential to transform the renewable energy sector by serving as a sustainable alternative to lithium-ion based home battery systems. The 21-year old Carson currently has a patent pending for her FES design and, after prompting considerable buzz in the industry, is on the hunt for investment opportunities to implement her new system.