This might replace batteries...

This might replace batteries...

In today's local paper there was an article on a 90+ yr old scientist who still works at Livermore Labs, a place that as I recall is guarded by a 30mm gatling gun mounted on a truck.

This scientist has worked in the fusion field, but more recently has been using some combination of flywheels and static electricity to store energy. He said energy would eventually be almost free because now it will be feasible to store solar, etc. energy without needing giant batteries. He said this would be demonstrated soon.

So, our future Tesla might not have a battery at all, just a spinning ball of static electricity in a container.

I presume Musk runs in these circles and is aware of the potential. Another thread mentioned the Tesla skunk works and this is the sort of thing that might be found in it.

Paul Koning | 18 juin 2013

Could you give some names? As it stands, I can't tell if you're talking about the National Enquirer or about a real newspaper. Not that "real" newspapers necessarily get their facts straight either...

carlgo | 18 juin 2013

You got me. I read all the trashy newspapers while I wait in supermart check-out lines.

Here are some factoids to help you in your search:

Dick Post, 94. Interesting guy with an active life. Has worked at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory for decades, still does.

"To heck with electromagnetic, we're going with electrostatic" he is quoted as saying. This seems to be different than other flywheel applications that I have read about.

Post has 30 patents.

He pioneered magnetic mirror fusion.

Has been described as the "father of the modern flywheel". He modestly dismisses that.

In 2012 he received the Lab's first Lifetime Achievement award.

A photo showed him with some components. Look something like a giant squirrel cage fan.

Post visualizes underground installations of the graphite fiber-composit flywheels at power plants and smaller devices for homes and cars. He hopes to test them within a year.

So, seems like an actual renowned scientist working at perhaps the top lab in the world, not some reclusive guy looking for investors.

Here is a link to a 2005 presentation he made:

There is a lot of other information on the www. I understand little of it, but the people and institutions involved are legit, so maybe something like this technology will help us out down the line.

I presented it not as an advocate, certainly not an expert, but simply because I never heard of it before and thought perhaps it would be interesting to some forum members.

danielccc | 18 juin 2013

Livermore is at the eastern edge of the Bay Area. If there is something interesting there, Musk will find be one of the first to know.

olanmills | 21 juin 2013

Storing energy is one thing. That won't make it free.

Solar energy comes from the sun which is only delivers a certain amount of energy per unit of time and unit of area.

So what is "feasible"? It's already feasible to store solar energy in batteries, as we already do it.

In order for his solution to matter, it must be some combination of better energy density, lower cost, or maybe some characteristic that let's it operate better in some circumstance, like maybe it works better than exsting technologies in extreme heat or cold or something.

Brian H | 22 juin 2013


Vulpine | 22 juin 2013

@Carigo: While that information is quite interesting, at least at the moment it doesn't seem to fit the known laws of physics. Cold fusion, as yet, is unproven and will likely take decades before anyone is able to turn it into a viable power source.

That said, the device you describe seems too much like an impossibility; even a flywheel needs to be charged up somehow and will slow down as load is placed upon it. What you describe purports to be essentially a perpetual motion machine combined with a static discharge. Since even a frictionless device would still generate drag when pulling that charge it would slow down and need recharging. Sure, you could generate huge electric potential, but the likely current would be minimal--certainly nowhere near enough to power a car for any range.

I'm not saying it IS an impossibility, only that based on what you've described it's highly improbable UNTIL cold fusion is a reality. After that, the need for an electrostatic generator may be eliminated as the fusion device itself may generate its own usable energy without the need for an intermediate system.

carlgo | 22 juin 2013

Cold fusion and perpetual motion are not part of the flywheel equation. It is an energy storage device that could get charged up in a number of ways. No magic involved.

Race cars are now using both flywheels and capacitors of various kinds. This gives them that electric torque out of the corners.

Watching the LeMans race as I type this and the Audi flywheel cars are leading handily. Slow discharge indeed! Keep in mind though that they are hybrids and have a plenty powerful gas motor. You can hear the flywheel spin up via regenerative braking. has some interesting information on all this.

frmercado | 23 juin 2013

@carlgo Yup, btw, the flywheel system for the Audi was developed by Williams Advanced Engineering which is now also going to be involved in Formula-e racing. I wish Tesla Motors would see the engineering potential that getting involved in an early stage with the Formula e series has...

carlgo | 23 juin 2013

And the Toyota uses capacitors. Both work, but the flywheel in the Audi takes up a lot less room. It looks like you could put about eight of them in the Tesla's floor (200hp x 8 = "no, kid, you can't borrow the car".

If the capacitor box in the Toyota could be flattened, you could fit maybe three or four of them in the Tesla (300hp x 4 = "No, kid, you can't borrow this car either).

Could be off a few hundred HP, but of course we would gladly trade some of that for range.

Paul Koning | 24 juin 2013

Nice article. Note that it is meant for stationary use, as energy storage for windmills or solar power plant where demand and supply aren't aligned. It's curious he refers to that generator as a creation of Trump, I know it as a Wimshurst machine (which is a century or two old).

I know that a few people have put flywheels in cars, but I could never figure out how you can make that work. The gyro effect would massively mess with the handling if the flywheel is mounted in a fixed orientation. (If it isn't, it takes up much more room.)

carlgo | 24 juin 2013

Utility plant use seems to be the most developed and economically viable right now, used as you say to even out power delivery. This may also prove to be the only good way to store solar and wind energy so that it may be doled out when it is needed.

But, smaller sizes are really getting a lot of attention. Post's first demonstrators will be quite small evidently. Some even point to having thousands of microscopic flywheels in something like an AAA battery. Presumably zillions of them could reside in a Tesla floor, producing hugely dangerous amounts of HP.

The key seems to be flywheel speed, Post and others proving that a light flywheel spinning at very high speeds is better than a heavy one spinning at a lower speed. Safety is an issue here as well. Modern materials like carbon fiber make this possible as they don't explode and kill unlucky researchers (this has happened).

I am thinking that a horizontal unit in a car would only affect lean, squat and dive and not actual turns. The fact that it is successful in cost-is-no-object race cars, mounted horizontally, makes me think this is not an issue. Could be wrong. I was a liberal arts major, not a scientist.

Paul Koning | 26 juin 2013

You're right that a horizontal flywheel won't affect turns. But it does affect all those other motions. Not a big deal on a race track, or in Holland, which are flat. Definitely a big deal in San Francisco, or New Hampshire, or any other place with hills.