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Finding new uses for centuries-old flywheel

Image of a spinning flywheel
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This photo is a flywheel spinning with a lighting effect that gives the old technology a 21st century look.

The flywheel is nothing new. It was first used to power old wind mills. But Beacon Power, a company based in Massachusetts, has taken the basic concept of a spinning disk and turned it into 200 pounds of carbon fiber. That piece is then sealed in a vacuum tank and suspended by powerful magnets. Inside, it spins faster than the top speed of a fighter jet.  Click here to see for yourself.

Company spokesman Gene Hunt said there’s a lot of wasted energy on the New York State Grid. The flywheel can use that wasted energy to spin, storing it in kinetic form. It releases that energy when the grid needs it most.

The technology also promises to help intermittent energy sources, like wind and solar, work better. In other words, the flywheel will store energy when the wind blows and release it when the wind doesn’t blow.

The department of energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), have recently given Beacon Power $45 million to build a flywheel energy storage plant in Stephentown, New York.

When the Stephentown plant is ready in spring of 2011, it will be the first of its kind in the world and perhaps the beginning of a new way to store commercial electricity.

Innovation Trail alumnus Dan Bazile is former reporter for WMHT in Albany. He has covered a wide range of topics, from town board meetings, to the September 11th terrorist attacks.