Next in our series of interviews with people from the energy industry, we talk to Abigail Carson. She is a 21 year old undergraduate student who has invented a new storage solution that could provide the missing link needed for a renewable energy revolution. Impressive!
Abigail, as part of her Mechanical Engineering degree at Lancaster University in the UK, created a superfast design for a Flywheel Energy Store (FES). The design, which was a self-proposed project, could have a wide number of applications, most notably for the storage of electricity generated by renewable sources such as wind turbines or solar panels. We speak to Abigail to find out a bit more about her project and her career aspirations.
- Abigail, there has been great buzz in the industry surrounding your energy storage solution. Congratulations! Can you tell us about the Flywheel Energy Store?
I can’t provide great technical detail, that’s confidential. But it has the same basic principle as others, at the heart is a rotating mass. Electrical energy is transformed into kinetic energy, and stored in that form, the energy can then be transformed back into electrical form and drawn at will. My initial aim was to achieve 100,000rpm, but I have achieved beyond that, reaching 144,000rpm, however with a few tweaks, this could be exceeded too.
- What was the main motivation behind the Flywheel Energy Store?
I proposed the flywheel project to Prof. Ye as my individual MEng project, that was a mandatory part of my course. But I never thought I would end up with something so successful, let alone unique. I proposed the flywheel project because I wanted to work on something I was passionate about, it was an up-and-coming area, that I found so interesting, I certainly chose well. I worked endless hours trying to improve results, at times, I would get a result from a simulation that I wasn’t expecting, but this lead me often to an even better outcome.
- What is unique about it compared to other innovations on the market?
I can’t disclose what is the ‘gold’ of the design, that would be giving it all away. But I think the most crucial part of it that will make it a future product is the reusability and recyclability of the design. A huge advantage is the maintenance-free aspect, and a potentially indefinite lifespan.
- Where will you take the FES design now? What are your hopes for implementing it in Industry?
I’m seeking investment, firstly to fund an R&D team, to fully-commercialise the FES, but I intend for this to lead to a UK-based company, assisting with patent applications, start-ups, and innovative solutions. I also want to commercialise my very first patent.
“Efficient and ‘green’ energy storage is the key to supporting renewables and becoming a sustainable planet regarding energy.”
- What made you choose mechanical engineering as your degree?
I’ve always had a passion for it, since I could walk! I can’t remember not wanting to know how things worked, or how to make things work. So it was always obvious what I wanted to do.
- How is your experience as a woman studying mechanical engineering. Are you in the minority on your course? Do you feel you have the same opportunities as your male counterparts?
Yes, I am in the minority, but I have always been treated with respect from day 1. I have exactly the same opportunities as the male students on my course.
- Now that you have one year left in your degree, what are your plans for the future, your career aspirations?
Right now I’m trying to “make it happen” with regards to the FES, alongside my final year. But what I do when I graduate will depend on what I achieve before then, but I do want experience, I’d love to work in F1, that would be a dream! On the other hand, I’m very passionate about solutions addressing the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
- The energy business is evolving really fast, especially thanks to new technological developments like FES. Which trends will you recommend energy professionals to follow closely in the next couple of years?
I cannot predict the future. I think energy stores are needed, and more efficient devices and technology. Efficient and ‘green’ energy storage is the key to supporting renewables and becoming a sustainable planet regarding energy. Alternatives to using the planet’s natural and non-renewables will become a key part of our day-to-day structure, that’s probably an area to watch out for, I certainly look for that sort of thing.