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Can flywheel technology drive out the battery from car hybrids?

Consider the hybrid car. Halfway between the traditional motor and the fully electric Nissan Leaf or the Volkswagen e-Up!, they’re a nod to green motoring. While retaining a conventional diesel engine, they can harvest kinetic energy from the car’s braking motion and use that to power an additional electric motor.

But batteries are energy-intensive to manufacture, and the weight of a battery pack can add more than 50kg to a vehicle’s mass, which means increased fuel usage – though hybrids are still get more miles per gallon than the conventional versions of the same models.

Then there’s the matter of fuel efficiency – you’re going from kinetic to electrical to chemical (battery) energy, and back again, every time you use the system. The kinetic energy that would otherwise be lost as heat during braking is converted to electricity by a generator, which charges the battery, and is later converted back to kinetic energy.

Conversion losses are inevitable. And battery disposal poses its own environmental problems.

Batteries aren’t the only way to store kinetic energy, though. Hybrid cars can be made with flywheels instead of batteries. In these “flybrids”, the kinetic energy recovered during braking spins a flywheel. The recovered kinetic energy is stored in the spinning wheel, to be released upon acceleration. The amount of energy a flywheel stores comes down to its mass and the speed at which it rotates; prototypes have provided an 80bhp boost.

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