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

Abigail Carson, 21, who has completed her third year studying mechanical engineering at Lancaster University, 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 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 therefore 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, Carson’s figures show her design can easily rotate at 144,000rpm without any adjustment – this is significantly more powerful and quicker than most existing designs, which can spin at around 60,000rpm.

Carson’s design is a unit around the size of a football, which makes it suited to 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 energy storage devices, such as batteries.

“The lifespan of the FES is around 30 years, which is much longer than that for batteries,” said Carson.

“Batteries cannot withstand power transfer pattern variation – 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 Carson’s project supervisor, said: “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 energy from renewable or sustainable sources. After some market-oriented developments, [it] could find a broad range of applications, ranging from domestic devices, large scale industry to general infrastructure.”