Posted in | Battery | Renewable Energy

Engineering Undergraduate from Lancaster Discovers Improved Mechanical Storage Solution

Abigail Carson. (Credit: Lancaster University)

An engineering undergraduate from Lancaster University has discovered a new storage solution that has the potential to provide the missing-link required for a renewable energy revolution.

The US energy storage market is estimated to be worth approximately $200 - 600 billion in 10 years. While most of the development and research conducted focuses on improving battery technologies, a student from Lancaster believes that a mechanical solution could help provide the answer.

Abigail Carson, 21, has completed her third year in Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster. She has developed a superfast design for a Flywheel Energy Store (FES). The self-proposed design, which was a project as part of her Mechanical Engineering degree course, has the potential for a wide number of uses, especially for storing electricity generated by renewable sources including solar panels or wind turbines.

The global energy crisis is the biggest and most urgent problem that needs addressing. 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.

Abigail Carson, Undergraduate, Lancaster University

Kinetic energy is retained by the FES in a levitated floating mass. The rotor can be created using composites such as carbon fiber, and is permanently levitated in order to suspend electromagnetic assistance or additional control mechanisms, which also eliminates maintenance or user input. However, monitoring equipment called the smart telemetry set will be implemented.

The calculations and simulations provide the power rating of the FES that can be modified and is capable of achieving the substantial MegaWatt range. While the initial aim was enabling the design to rotate at 100,000 rpm, Miss Carson’s figures demonstrate that her design is capable of rotating at 144,000 rpm without any change.

This design is much more powerful and faster, compared to existing designs that are capable of spinning at around 60,000 rpm.

The unit designed by Miss Carson is approximately the size of a football, making it suitable for domestic applications. However, the unit can be scaled up to be used in industrial applications through a stacking approach using multiple units together on the same network in order to develop a bigger energy store.

The reason behind using multiple individual units is that if one gets affected, shutting down of the entire system is not required, and this is a major advantage on some very large single unit systems.

The FES also provides various 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. Batteries cannot withstand power transfer pattern variations – 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.

Abigail Carson, Undergraduate, Lancaster University

Professor Jianqiao Ye, Chair of Mechanical Engineering at Lancaster University and Miss Carson’s project supervisor, stated: “I am very pleased to see that Abi has moved from idea to patent of her innovative design that has shown great potentials. She worked through it by taking advantages of our nationally high-ranked mechanical engineering program, as a part of her third year research and design project. I am looking forward to further development of her new FES and wish her very successful in marketing her invention.”

“This invention demonstrates how a traditional technology, such as a flywheel energy store system, can be modernized to meet current demand on storage of clean energy from renewable or sustainable sources. The system designed by Miss Carson has a number of important features, including portable, green and an impressively high efficiency. The system, after some market-orientated developments, could find a broad range of applications, ranging from domestic devices, large scale industry to general infrastructure.

“As a general engineering department, all our students are exposed to design process through a variety of activities that encourage and support students to develop creative solutions for the real world. Abi’s invention has clearly demonstrated what we have believed.”

Miss Carson has a patent pending for her design and is looking for investment opportunities in order to implement the FES.


  1. Paul Albert Paul Albert United States says:

    I have been working with Flywheels Energy Storage Systems (FESS) for many years now and everything that is stated in this article is correct.  If what Mrs Abigail Carson says she has developed comes to fruition, it would be a totally seminal event for the Energy Storage Industry.

    Energy storage is the weak link in smart energy management. All energy sources are subject to variable loads, power spikes, outages. The grid also has demand load pricing. These characteristics need to be mitigated and energy storage is the most efficient means to accomplish this.

    The most common energy storage used is batteries which are highly toxic and flammable, have a short life span, are inefficient, temperature limited and require ventilation. A FESS can generate and re-generate over and over again without burning up. Batteries CANNOT do that and retain their abilities.

    Flywheels do not have these drawbacks. Flywheels store energy by revving up a carbon fiber disk to high rpm in a vacuum using an electric motor/generator. They extract the energy by switching the motor into generator mode which is driven by the momentum of the carbon fiber/steel disk drive.

    Flywheels make more energy available  plus it promises lower cost, no-maintenance and long life through the use of correct bearings and a low loss reluctance motors. A FESS system is projected to have an energy density which is very competitive to lithium ion battery packs, but with a service life that is many times longer than batteries. (20 Yrs+.)

    That being said, the immediate issue with a FESS are the initial costs that renders a “return on investment” (ROI) of up to five (5) yrs. However, there are a number of things that can be tweaked to shorten the ROI on the FESS. Etc. using steel components instead of expensive carbon fiber. There are also many applications where batteries cannot/will not compete. Etc. elevators. (Lithium batteries are dangerous and illegal in elevator shafts.) Therefore, most investors are myopic, and refuse to make an investment unless they can see an immediate return, and that seems to be the rub. Hence, unless the Governments of the specific localities include flywheels for tax breaks such as as they do for photo-voltaics securing funding is difficult

    In conclusion, with new innovations, flywheels are a very powerful link in creating clean energy storage, but investment dollars need to be acquired and that seems to be quite politically difficult.

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