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A company making magnetically-levitated composite fibre flywheels spinning in vacuum bottles at 50,000 rpm claims it has just shipped its 500th unit. Pentadyne Power Corp also announced proudly that a mag-lev whirlywheel it sold to NASA in March 2004 - one of its first deals - has now racked up 35,000 hours operational.

"These two significant milestones occurring within a few days of each other underscores the rapid and growing acceptance of our product in the marketplace," boasted Pentadyne levitating spin kingpin Mark McGough.

The flywheels, in case you haven't guessed, are used as an alternative to batteries for storing energy in uninterruptible power supply (UPS) systems.

Pentadyne chiefs reckon their tech needs much less maintenance and downtime than batteries. They say it also holds energy more efficiently than an ordinary steel flywheel system, because the Pentadyne composite masses are stronger and can be spun much faster, more than making up for the loss of mass (kinetic energy being proportional to the square of velocity).

This also allows for a comparatively small footprint. Finally, the mag-lev bearings mean that friction losses are minimised and the kit doesn't draw much power in order to stay topped off.

For longer-term backup, a UPS user still needs a generator; but Pentadyne say that flywheels alone will deal with short outages or blips in grid power supply, and can hand off to a generator after it fires up.

The company certainly seems to have landed some prestigious customers: not just NASA but the US Defense Department, which is buying 500 mil-specced flywheel backup systems for "homeland security [and] military defense applications" during the next few years.

At last, a story with IT angular momentum. ®

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