34 Flywheels

Flywheels are devices that are used for storing energy. A plane disc spinning about its axis would be an example of a simple flywheel. The kinetic energy of the spinning disc is released when the flywheel slows down. The energy can be captured by connecting an electrical generator directly to the disc as shown in Figure 3.2, power electronics being required to match the generator output to a form where it can drive the vehicle motors. The flywheel can be re-accelerated, acting as a regenerative brake. Alternatively the flywheel can be connected to the vehicle wheels via a gearbox and a clutch. A photograph of a flywheel and purely mechanical transmission used on the Parry People Mover is shown in Figure 3.3. This transmission matches the rotational speed of the flywheel to the wheels, the flywheel giving out energy as it decelerates.

Whether mechanical or electrical, the system can also be used to recover kinetic energy when braking. The flywheel can be accelerated, turning the kinetic energy of the vehicle into stored kinetic energy in the flywheel, and acting as a highly efficient regenerative brake.

The total amount of energy stored is given by the formula:

drives the generator which supplies electrical energy.

supplied to the motor which accelerates the flywheel.

2. To capture energy the flywheel

1. To store energy current is

Motor/Generator

Electrical input or output

Figure 3.2 Flywheel/generator arrangement

Electrical input or output drives the generator which supplies electrical energy.

supplied to the motor which accelerates the flywheel.

2. To capture energy the flywheel

1. To store energy current is

Motor/Generator

Figure 3.2 Flywheel/generator arrangement

Figure 3.3 Parry People Mover chassis. The enclosed flywheel can be clearly seen in the middle of the vehicle (Photograph kindly supplied by Parry People Movers Ltd.)

where E is the energy in joules, I is the moment of inertia and m is the rotational speed in radians per second. When a flywheel reduces from m1 to m2 rads-1 the energy released will be given by the formula:

If you could make a flywheel strong enough almost infinite energy could be stored, bearing in mind that the mass and hence the moment of inertia get larger as the flywheel peripheral speed approaches the speed of light. Unfortunately as the flywheel rotational speed increases so do the stresses in the material. As a result the flywheel's energy storage capacity is limited by the tensile strength of the material it is made from.

The main advantage of flywheels is that they have a high specific power and it is relatively easy to get energy to and from the flywheel. They are also fairly simple, reliable mechanical devices. The specific energy from flywheels is limited and unlikely to approach that of even lead acid batteries. Attempts have been made to boost specific energy by using ultra-strong materials, running the flywheel in inert gas or a vacuum to reduce air friction losses, and using magnetic bearings.

Apart from the low specific energy there are major worries about safety due to the risk of explosion. In the event of the flywheel rupturing, during a crash energy is released almost instantly and the flywheel effectively acts like a bomb. Also, if a fast moving flywheel becomes detached from its mountings it could cause real havoc. Another aspect of flywheels that needs to be considered is the gyroscopic effect of a disc rotating at high speeds. Firstly, without outside interference they tend to stay in one position and do not readily move on an axis other than the axis of spin. When a torque or movement is introduced around one axis, the flywheel tends to move or precess around another axis. Again the behaviour in an accident situation needs to be studied carefully, as does the effect on the vehicle's dynamics. However, it should be noted that in many cases these effects could be benign, and they could have a smoothing effect on vehicle ride.

Several attempts have been made to produce flywheel buses and trams, the Parry People Mover of Figure 1.17 being, we believe, the only one available commercially. The chassis from this vehicle, showing the flywheel device, is shown in Figure 3.3.

Despite the lack of success of the flywheel for vehicle energy storage and a certain amount of bad press, it would be wrong to write off the flywheel completely. Virtually all IC engines have small flywheels and these have not proved particularly problematic. The simplicity of a small flywheel to be used in an electric vehicle for use as a regenerative braking system should not be overlooked. Provided the flywheel is used well below its rupture point and is kept relatively small and well guarded, it may come to have a useful role in the future of electric vehicles, particularly in hybrids.

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