The Velkess Flexible Flywheel promises energy storage technology at a “radically lower cost.” Think of a house with solar panels on the roof. During the day the house receives enough energy from the Sun to power the lights, heat, air conditioning and appliances in the house. Excess energy drives a flywheel which stores up the energy it receives by spinning faster and faster. The flywheel may be on its own or connected to additional power storage such as a chemical battery (lead acid, nickel cadmium, nickel metal hydride, nickel zinc or lithium ion. When the Sun sets the stored energy is released to power the house lights, heat, air conditioning and appliances throughout the night.
The flywheel on its own, rotating at thousands of RPMs can be the force driving the generator while releasing the kinetic energy it has stored during daylight. There are lots of myths about flywheels. Inventors talk about coming up with perpetual motion machines based on flywheels. But in fact the laws of thermodynamics in this Universe cannot easily be broken. Flywheels eventually slow down. So it may be helpful to understand exactly what the differences are between regular flywheels and the Velkess Flexible Flywheel, and why people on Kickstarter, the crowdsourcing funding site, have ponied up over $56,000 so far.
How a flywheel works is simple. Electrical energy is fed to the wheel which causes it to turn around a central axis. The wheel is mounted on low friction bearings. As it rotates it stores the energy it receives in kinetic form (that is in increasingly rapid rotation). The trick is to create a low friction coefficient so that minimal energy gets lost from the transfer of power to the wheel from the energy source. Once that energy source stops the flywheel continues to spin now discharging its stored kinetic energy through an attached spinning generator.
Now to the Velkess Kinetic Flywheel. What makes it different? Velkess stands for Very Large Kinetic Energy Storage System. The rotor is made of a form of flexible fiberglass called e-glass. The e-glass has properties that make it a suitable material choice. It is soft. It flexes like a lasso. This allows it to adjust to destablizing forces over the lifetime of operation. In addition the flywheel is mounted in a vacuum to reduce frictional energy loss even further.
On Kickstarter the inventor, Bill Gray, has asked for $54,000 to help him scale up the current working prototype (they claim to have made 50 to date). The prototype uses a 12 kilogram (25 pound) rotor. They want to build one that is 340 kilograms (750 pounds). He is convinced that once he scales up homes will be able to dispense with power from the grid and batteries, and run entirely off solar, wind and his invention.
Scaling up a flywheel is not easy. The bearings and magnets needed to safely operate the flywheel with a vastly increased weight load. At what speed would such a large flywheel become unstable? And what speeds would be needed to get desirable levels of kinetic energy stored that then could be released to operate a house full of appliances for a period of up to 15 hours over mid-latitude winter nights?
The Velkess Kinetic Flywheel, according to its inventor, will be cheaper than a battery based system over the life of its operation. How much that is doesn’t appear to be stated anywhere on the Kickstarter or company website.
As I stated in my title to this posting – is this real, wishful thinking or a hoax? We’ll keep following Bill Gray’s company and keep you informed.