Flywheel energy

Hybrid cars with gas turbines supplying power to an electric motor, and a flywheel battery storing energy, would warm the heart of English inventor and coalmaster John Barber (1734-1801). He had the prescience to combine the principles of both turbine and flywheel in a patent of 1791. 

The pioneering years of the motor car were awash with designs espousing propulsion through “systems of levers” or “gravity engines”. A good number never had much prospect of providing locomotion but Nottingham-born Barber applied himself to driving an engine from its own hot air. He proposed a perilous mixture of inflammable gas made from coal or oil, which was pressed into what he called with commendable sang froid an exploder chamber.


When lit, he found the gas, “rushed out with great rapidity in one continuous stream of fire.” One imagines it would. According to Barber the jet “issued out with amazing force and velocity against a fly wheel.” Vanes round its rim caught the rush of flame and it kept going until Barber could fix the next injection of fuel. 

This seems to have been the snag. Barber found it difficult to keep the explosion going steadily enough to rev up the flywheel for long. Perhaps if he had started with a blowlamp and worked his way up he might have got the thing spinning fast enough to provide motive force a century ahead of Daimler or Benz, and 80 years before Sir Charles Parsons blew steam on to a turbine blade.