Flywheel Energy Source

By PSU EcoMerge Capstone - 10:20 AM

Through all of the research I have done this quarter, I found the flywheel source of energy system to be particularly interesting so I decided to look into it more in depth. This works by accelerating the flywheel to a very high speed and maintaining the energy in the system as rotational energy. Then, when energy is extracted, the flywheel’s rotational energy is reduced "as a consequence of the principle of conservation of energy." When energy is added to the system this results in an increase in the speed of the flywheel. The flywheel uses electricity to accelerate and decelerate, but devices that directly use mechanical energy are being developed. This system can be very complex but one of the positive factors is that flywheels can come up to very high speeds in a matter of minutes and this is much quicker than some other forms of energy storage.

The are a few main components that make it possible for the flywheel to function. There is a rotor suspended by bearings inside of a vacuum chamber, which helps in reducing friction. This is also connected to a combination electric motor and electric generator. Newer systems use carbon-fiber composite rotors that have a higher tensile strength than steel, but are not quite as heavy. Also, magnetic bearings are sometimes used instead of mechanical bearings in order to reduce friction. High-temperature superconductor bearings are becoming more and more popular because they are economical and could possibly extend the time energy. There are many other parts contained inside of the flywheel but without these main components listed above, it would not be able to function like it does.

They flywheel may have many positives, but one of its limitations is the energy storage time in some flywheel types. When mechanical bearings are used, the flywheel can lose 20 % to 50 % of their energy in two hours. This is due to the friction used when the flywheel changes orientation due to the rotation of the earth. However, this can be avoided by aligning the flywheel’s axis of rotation parallel to that of the earth’s axis of rotation. An up side to this is a that flywheels with magnetic bearings and high vacuum can maintain 97 % mechanical efficiency and 85 % round trip efficiency. It becomes very obvious why magnetic bearings are becoming more and more popular.

There is so much other significant information that can be found on flywheels. For instance, its general maintenance runs about one-half the cost of traditional battery UPS systems. Another fact that I found interesting is that flywheels are used in various forms of transportation such as buses, some motor vehicles, electric locomotives, et cetera. I must admit that before taking this class I did not know anything about how things were provided energy. If it worked, that was good enough for me. However, after learning about all these different sources of energy, I really enjoyed learning about the flywheel. There is so much to learn about the flywheel energy source that the information above is just a very basic explanation. This form of energy is definitely growing in popularity and so far it has proved to have more pros than cons.

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