Do Flywheels Belong in the Server Room?

The innovative data center power backup system offers an environmentally safe, longer-lasting solution that's worth the cost, says maker Pentadyne Power.

Data center managers, is there a flywheel in your future? Maybe. I met recently with Mark McGough, the president of Pentadyne Power, based in Chatsworth, Calif. That company is introducing a new upgrade to its flywheel-based power backup system for data centers.

Flywheels? You mean those things whizzing at about 50,000 rpm that were supposed to power automobiles? And you want to put one of those things in my data center? Do they really work? What happens if that flywheel breaks free of its housing and starts shooting around the data center carving holes in my servers?

Those are probably some of the questions you have; they were certainly the questions I had.

/zimages/4/28571.gifCongress is expected to vote on a bill regarding data center power efficiency. Read more here.

First, a couple of facts. The electric power grids ability to produce clean, uninterruptible power for high-performance data centers falters on a regular basis.

The Electric Power Research Institute estimates that in the United States alone, electric power problems costs over $50 billion annually. At the same time, nearly 98 percent of the power grid interruptions last less than 10 seconds.

The traditional way to deal with those interruptions has been using banks of lead acid batteries capable of providing an hour or two of backup. However, those batteries are heavy, have a limited lifespan and contain materials the Environmental Protection Agency would like to keep out of landfills.

Pentadyne addresses this issue with a carbon-fiber flywheel, which, in the model being introduced on July 14, has a design life of 20 years, weighs 1,300 pounds and delivers up to 190 kW of power for up to 2,700 kW per second of energy.

/zimages/4/28571.gifClick here to read more about attempts to make the data center more ecologically sound.

The idea behind the 10 to 15 seconds of power is that during the interval, the data center manager has set up the emergency generator to take over power production after 5 seconds or so of interruption.

The systems cost about $40,000 which is about one-third greater than the upfront cost of lead acid, but the company contends that the much longer life cycle of the product over lead acid systems and the environmental benefits tilt the equation in Pentadynes favor over the products life.

By using carbon fiber, the company negates the errant flywheel problem. If there is a failure, the flywheel disintegrates into thin, light, spaghetti-like fibers that stay within the containment cylinder. The company is marketing the product as an environmentally safe and responsible alternative, which can either replace lead acid backup or be used in conjunction with the lead acid backup now in operation.

"The electric grid is not able to deliver clean power on a seven-day by 24-hour basis. We offer a clean energy source in a box," McGough said.

The companys products are distributed through Liebert and customers include Meriter Hospital in Madison, Wis., and the NASA Glenn Research Center, in Cleveland. The companys products grew out of several flywheel developments including projects undertaken by Rosen Motors, formerly in Woodland Hills, Calif., a company that had envisioned using flywheels as part of an automobile power system.

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