In "The Windup Girl," there is frequent talk about kink-spring devices. Googling kink-springs doesn't turn up anything. Is this a real technology or has it been made up or is this just the same as the torsion spring in a plastic wind up toy? e.g. http://www.damninteresting.com/why-not-a-wind-up-car

The part that throws me is the word "kink", it makes it sound like there is something being referenced in the real world.

EDIT: And I'm under no illusion that The Windup Girl is a non-fiction textbook about mechanical engineering. Many people seem to think I'm asking for the answer "'The Windup Girl' is a work of fiction"


5 Answers 5


I'd say the closest we have to that now would be a using a flywheel. It doesn't use a spring. Rather, you spin a heavy object, effectively storing energy in it. When you need the energy back, you use the wheel to turn 'whatever' - or maybe you lower some coils around it and turn it into a giant electro-magnet and use it to generate electricity. I think you get the idea.

The kink springs in that story are basically doing the same thing, except instead of spinning a wheel, you're tightening a spring. Except i don't know of any springs that are capable of storing useful amounts of energy.

  • 1
    That does not seem to be answering the OP's query at all (although flywheel's are cool).
    – Lexible
    Jan 3, 2015 at 1:56

Carbon nano tube springs already exist and have an energy storage potential 10x that of lithium ion batteries. They were created in 2009 at MIT. Still very experimental though.



It's similar to the wind-up tech used in olden toys and watches. Check this out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mainspring The description even says it stores energy. I think the books takes a cue from this and made a leap into fiction.


It's a made up technology.

Apparently it may one day be possible to create springs with the kind of energy densities that occur in the book: Carbon Nanotube Super Springs

  • 2
    No, you can get better energy densities than steel springs with carbon nanotubes, maybe comparable to good batteries, but you'll never be able to get the terajoule per cubic metre densities of the devices described in the book. At least, not without femtoengineering working directly on atomic nuclei, and if you can do that then solving the technological problems in Bacigalupi's world would be trivial.
    – Mike Scott
    Oct 1, 2014 at 20:08

It's made-up technology that is not actually possible in the real world (or rather, cannot be made capable of storing useful amounts of energy). Bacigalupi has no understanding of thermodynamics, and just puts stuff in his books if it seems cool.

  • 4
    A bit harsh, Bacigalupi supposes it is possible, and the story is set against that supposition, factoring in futuristic materials. Steam is also incapable of the amount of work it has been pushed to in many recent stories.
    – Mesh
    Jun 14, 2012 at 9:38
  • 2
    How does storing energy in a spring violate the laws of thermodynamics? Mar 12, 2014 at 22:48
  • Getting more useful energy by feeding giant animals and having them wind the spring up rather than just burning the food in a biomass power station is what violates the laws of thermodynamics. Different physical laws are violated by the springs themselves, which require materials that can't exist.
    – Mike Scott
    Mar 13, 2014 at 6:53
  • 3
    The springs are just energy carriers, like batteries. There is nothing about batteries that defies the laws of thermodynamics, and there are practical reasons why you might want to use a battery rather than carrying a power station around. It's true that the solution presented in the book seems uneconomical, and the springs would require some pretty exotic materials, but it's within the limits of what the author can suppose for the sake of originality. Also, to @Adrian, steam is used to power the turbines in nuclear power stations...
    – GregRos
    Oct 1, 2014 at 19:49
  • 3
    How about pointing us at a link with "the numbers?"
    – Lexible
    Jan 3, 2015 at 1:58

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