Flywheels have been employed for decades as an exotic power source in satellites costing hundreds of millions of dollars, but now a Chatsworth company is making them viable closer to earth.


The $45,000 high-tech flywheel power systems manufactured by Pentadyne Power Corp. provide 20 seconds of critical power in the event a main power supply fails a window of time that allows back-up generators to start up and take over. It's a feature being demanded by technology-based companies that must be sure their power supply never goes down even for a moment.


The seven-year old company had less than $1 million in sales last year, after finally refining its technology. But it expects to more than double that this year and hit $15 million next year after landing several big deals.


"Generators don't come on instantaneously, but our system does," said Craig Kitchen, Pentadyne's new chief executive. "The factory never sees a brownout. That is our biggest selling point."


Pentadyne is under contract with Galena, Ill.-based Savanna Depot Technologies Corp. for as many as 800 units that would be installed in 400 decommissioned ammunition bunkers it is transforming into data centers. The first 40 units were purchased for $1.6 million.


The use of flywheels essentially spinning discs is actually an ancient technology that archaeologists say date back to ancient Egypt, where they were used in drills for massive building projects.


The wheels require energy to get started and keep going, but the spinning wheel also stores excess power in the form of kinetic energy that can be quickly discharged when needed (as the wheel slows) but quickly recharged once outside power is restored.


Traditional flywheels can lose energy and break down through the friction created by the spinning wheel, but the flywheels developed by Pentadyne minimize that problem two ways: they are made of light-weight carbon fiber and are electromagnetically suspended, meaning they don't touch anything as they spin at 54,000 revolutions per minute (several times faster than a Formula 1 race car engine).


"It's starting to prove itself to be reliable, but it's still a relatively young (technology) because of the new lightweight materials being used," said Bill Van Amburg, senior vice president of Calstart, a non-profit consortium that supports advanced technology.


Boom and bust
Pentadyne's roots stem from the mid-1990s when Woodland Hills-based Rosen Motors, run by venture capitalist Ben Rosen, also founder of Compaq Computer Corp., and his engineer brother Harold developed the flywheel for hybrid cars.

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