I often write glowingly about solar panels and how great it would be for me to control a giant laser beam. My plans for a solar powered empire work fine when the solar array is built in space, but odds are any significant solar arrays will be built first on Earth. So, after the sun goes down the power goes out! Our primary means of energy storage, what we need in order to light our nights, are chemical batteries. DeathStar

Batteries have gotten us pretty far, allowing us to carry mobile phones, laptops, flashlights, etc. But all these things work on a small scale. Sure, we have car batteries to jump start our engines, but in the end they aren’t built to do much else on a reliable basis. Chemical batteries are volatile, toxic, and have a short lifespan. They wouldn’t be able to power a solar civilization when the sun goes down, not until we see some chemical battery breakthroughs.

Till then we have the flywheel. Flywheels work like mechanical batteries, storing energy kinetically rather than chemically. They do this using a spinning wheel or disk. When energy is added to the flywheel, the wheel/disk is spun by a motor, when energy needs to be subtracted or utilized, the motor engages the spinning disk, generating electricity. A heavier disk adds a linear amount of potential energy storage. A disk capable of higher speeds, on the other hand, adds a squared amount of potential energy storage. Thus, disks meant to store a large amounts of energy must be able to spin at very high speeds (16,000 RPM, for instance). The trouble is, normal materials spinning at this speed explode due to the extreme forces acting on their surfaces. This is why modern flywheels are built using materials such as carbon fiber.Battery Container

Several companies have started making large scale flywheels, but these days the most common use for a flywheel is power regulation. A large flywheel installation can smooth out bumps in the energy grid caused when power demand and supply fall out of sync. In the worst cases, a desynced power grid will cause a brownout or blackout, shutting down power completely. Residents of New York and more commonly, California, suffer from these disturbances. Unlike a generator, a flywheel can instantly respond to dips and jumps in an energy grid, preventing a frequency shift great enough to shut down the system.

Point is, while smoothing out our grids is a great idea anyway, I think flywheels could also be used to store and generate energy overnight. They aren’t toxic, they recharge very quickly, they last for a long time, etc. Plus, they spin really really really really fast.

9 Replies to “Flywheels”

  1. Are you referring to the Large Hardron Collider? Or something else?
    Also: Why do you have a picture of what looks like the Death Star from Star Wars?

  2. The Large Hadron Collider is a particle accelerator meant to explore the existence of exotic particles and the makeup of our universe shortly after the big bang.
    A flywheel is just a power battery.

    It IS the Death Star, hence the joke about the “giant laser beam” in the first line.

    Heh, Jeff. You be crazy.

  3. Well I realize the Large Hardon Collider has something to do with the Big Bang but considering it is two hadrons spinning around at high speeds and then crashing into each other in which is suppose to cause a large amount of energy to be unleashed. Couldn’t we just use that energy? Guess not.
    Anyways, I can’t wait for the Large Hardon Collider to be done. It is suppose to be finished sometime this year WOOT!

  4. From what I understand, more energy is used accelerating and collecting data on the particles than is released when they collide. Also, considering they are working at an atomic level, even if there were a massive amount of relative energy released, it will still be on an atomic scale, and probably canceled out completely by the energy used to accelerate the particles.
    I think what you really want is a good old fashioned fusion reactor. Same idea, smashing atoms together, but the focus is on massive energy output rather than massive energy input. They have a research facility in France (I think) that should be done relatively soon. Come to think of it, I think I should do a Fusion article!

  5. yeah the LHC and i are well acquainted – playing god is one of my (and humanity’s) favorie past times – and that one takes the cake! we’ll either unlock the secrets of the univers or bolw the hell out of our own planet. Either way – sounds like a party. Flywheels on the otherhand sound like a save more efficient way of storying energy than a battery, but then again, how will I use them to power my Tyco RC racecar?

  6. Well I realize the Large Hardon Collider really has nothing to do with these Flywheels but the LHC is just so damn cool, I had to bring it up.
    Mr. Charlie: I’m, as well, fascinated with playing G-d. That is why I am going into biochemistry. So I can learn more about Stem Cell Research and hopefully make a mass army of clones (hopefully of myself). What is your major? and when are you stopping by Vegas to visit (this is a wild guess in the dark) so we can talk more about not only playing G-d, but hopefully global domination as well?

  7. Good question, I’d love to stop by vegas and hang – also a bio major, just biology though, not biochemistry, or molecular biology or anything. I’m kind of a purist. But as far as stem cell research goes – i’m on board as long as it doesn’t involve vamping unborn featuses (feti?) of their lifeblood – but if new research can lead to other ways of procuring them (say, through cord blood) i think its a great field to go into, Lone. I myself am premed – so lots of bio, lots of chem -I’d really love to be hands on with patients one day. Also, as my plans for global domination go, i’d have to stick with E on the giant orbital lazer idea – what’s more BA than raining down hellfire on you’re opponents from the final frontier – I’d also like to see the development of said deathbeam spawn a massive arms race in space – think final space battle in Return of the Jedi! cool huh? so thats why i lke the idea of a giant lazer… more tea?

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