by Jacques Gordon
The search for better fuel economy isn’t limited to on-road vehicles. Ricardo Engineering, one of the world’s oldest and most influential technology development consultants, will introduce their TorqStor™ high-speed flywheel energy storage (FES) concept at the construction industry trade show CONEXPO in Las Vegas on March 4.
FES has been used with limited success over the past 70 years in buses, rail cars and Formula 1 racing, and companies such as Volvo and Chrysler have also experimented successfully with the concept. In a typical vehicle application, energy is absorbed by a generator during braking, and that electrical energy is used to spin a flywheel up to a very high speed, converting electrical energy to kinetic energy (energy of motion). That energy is then used to drive the generator and power the motor to help accelerate the vehicle. Unlike hybrid-drive systems currently in production, there is no battery. All the energy is stored in the flywheel.
A flywheel system is best suited for vehicles operating in stop-and-go applications. Ricardo’s TorqStor is a flywheel system for construction vehicles with an arm that makes repetitive up-and-down movements. Since it already has a hydraulic system, the TorqStor uses a hydraulic pump/motor, like the Volvo system, instead of an electric motor/generator. But in this application, instead of recovering breaking energy, the energy used to raise the arm is recovered when gravity pulls the arm back down.
A carbon-fiber composite flywheel uses a magnetic coupling to connect to a gear drive that can be geared for different applications. The flywheel operates in a permanently sealed vacuum to avoid air resistance to it’s rotation, which can be quite significant when flywheel speeds might reach 60,000 rpm. The pre-production prototype TorqStor has a peak power rating of 101 kW (135 hp) and is about the size and weight of a small 4-cylinder-engine gen set. In the 24-ton excavator they used for testing, Ricardo says the device reduced fuel consumption enough to pay for itself in one year.
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