The quest for energy that is truly renewable

Solar, wind turbine, fly wheel. The first two are what people usually think of when they think renewable energy. Andre Gennesseaux is going beyond the usual. 
Flywheel technology as a source of renewable energy could be a viable alternative if Andre Gennesseaux secures the capital needed to set up manufacturing facilities in the United States.

Gennesseaux, directeur general of Energiestro  headquartered in France, has been traveling from France to the United States every few months to pitch his flywheel technology to would-be investors,  governmental officials and various company representatives.  

He is receiving support for his endeavor stateside from his brother-in-law Francois Moyet, owner of Henderson Castle, a bed and breakfast located near downtown Kalamazoo.

One kilowatt of energy produced by a flywheel would cost about $1,000 which is about the same as a better lithium battery.

"Right now it’s a bit expensive, but the big difference is that chemical batteries don’t last forever," Gennesseaux says. "We are developing a flywheel that can last for a long time, more than 20 or 30 years. The minimum size is about five kilowatts which is the right size for an average house and the flywheel is there for as long as you own the house."

Moyet says he is among more than 40 French investors in Energiestro who are not necessarily in it for the money they could make. Rather they are want to be part of the energy solution that reverses what the use of nonrenewable energy sources has wrought. Catastrophic weather events such as Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy should be a wakeup call that climate change is real and could wreak major havoc, he says.

"Within 10 years  we will see a tremendous change in our lifestyles because of issues like flooding and drought," Moyet says. "The investors in France all have the same dream--to try and fix the situation and leave a lasting legacy and inspire our children that everything is possible."

A Facebook page created for Energiestro has had more than 1,500 likes in five days from people throughout the world who are concerned about an energy crisis and climate change. And locals recently got a preview of just what the project could entail. Moyet says the funding he and Gennesseaux is seeking is necessary to take the company to the next level. 

"There are thousands of people online who say they could use that machine right now," Moyet says. "We have considerable interest from many who are waiting for our system to become available."

Among those who are waiting are residents of countries in Africa where the supply of energy is often unpredictable. Individuals working in the agriculture industry are interested because of issues with the refrigeration of food.

The flywheel technology has been tested in four sites including a house in a village in France and Energiestro’s factory in France that has been off the energy grid for about five years.

"It took us one decade to go from the idea to a proven product," Gennesseaux says. "Many people are surprised at the time it takes. ... The research is over and now we are preparing for the production."

The flywheels are more durable than chemical batteries, but their manufacture requires an investment in tooling because the flywheels are forged. The process involves taking several hundred pounds of steel, heating it to several hundred degrees and putting it into a press with tools so that it takes the shape of a flywheel.

Once the flywheel is forged it must be machined to precise dimensions and requires surface treatments such as painting. Energiestro would offer a 10-year warranty on the flywheels.

Gennesseaux says a safe flywheel must be heavy.  

While he would really like the opportunity to produce his flywheel technology in Europe, Gennesseaux says this would mean applying for a patent in each country. The patent process for different countries varies.

"It’s easier for companies to startup in the U.S.," Gennesseaux says. "Starting a startup in Europe is always difficult because you have a small market and in each place you have to translate what you are trying to do. It’s also more expensive because you have to apply in every country for a patent."

Moyet says a successful startup has a much better chance of thriving in the American market because there aren’t different languages and legislative hoops to jump through.

Gennesseaux says he saw the tremendous potential for flywheel energy storage in a stationary application while working as an engineer in the 1990s with a petroleum group in Europe. He approached company officials who weren’t interested in his ideas and left in 2000 to start Energiestro.

Although he’s raised money from different sources in countries such as Great Britain, Spain, and Switzerland, he says more is needed.

There has been no resistance, but there also has been negligible support for smart grid technology which means energy produced via a flywheel could communicate with the grid. Energy companies can’t produce enough energy or store it.

"My goal here is to have every single country and every energy company in the world in tune with us.  They could buy energy back from us because we will store it," Gennesseaux says.

Energy companies don’t have the ability to fix or replace the grid and neither does the federal government, according to national news reports.  

"We are planting the seeds," Gennesseaux says. "It took me one year from the beginning of planting that seed to fundraising.  This is why I continue the project."

While seeking out additional investors in a face-to-face format Moyet and his brother-in-law also are exploring the use of crowdfunding such as Kickstarter and IndiGo.

Jane Parikh is a freelance writer with more than 20 years experience. A Kalamazoo native, she is now based in Battle Creek.