According to a press release, Launchpoint Technologies received American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds to develop advanced control techniques for the operation of high-speed, high-efficiency, energy storage flywheels.
Energy storage flywheels, such as LaunchPoint’s Power Ring, provide bursts of power over short time periods and are currently being developed as a more cost-effective method for maintaining electric power stability in the face of outages, surges and sags that typically last up to a few seconds. The company says that the effect on the economy of these electrical problems can be as great as $100 billion.
In a Smart Grid setting, flywheels could be used to balance frequency shifts, to adjust for peak usages and to respond to arbitrage-related loading and unloading.
To be effective, energy storage flywheels must be able to generate power on the megawatt scale, which requires high rotational speeds and results in centripetal forces in excess of 100,000 G. To achieve these speeds, which are on the order of 600 meters per second at 20,000 rpm, the flywheel is constructed of a carbon-ceramic composite material and is levitated using a magnetic bearing. By using magnetic levitation and operating the flywheel in a vacuum, friction is eliminated, permitting higher rotation speeds and lower operating costs as a result of decreased wear on the system and reduced energy consumption.
Besides coming up with the right flywheel materials, Launchpoint must perfect and demonstrate an “active control system” that keeps the gap between the flywheel stator and rotor uniform.
A few years ago, the company predicted that with the Power Ring, “electricity storage capacities exceeding 5 megawatt-hours per unit appear both technically feasible and economically attractive”.
Launchpoint’s grant was awarded through ARRA funds administered by the National Science Foundation.