Boston-based Form Energy has been diligently working on an iron-air battery since 2017, but details of its research have been sparse … until now. This week, the company said its first commercial product is a “rechargeable iron-air battery capable of delivering electricity for 100 hours at system costs competitive with conventional power plants and at less than 1/10th the cost of lithium-ion. This battery can be used continuously over a multi-day period and will enable a reliable, secure, and fully renewable electric grid year-round.”
One of the ways fossil fuel advocates attack renewable energy is to focus on the intermittency issue — the fact that the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine. Form Energy says its battery technology will solve that problem.
Rust Never Sleeps
The technology is dirt simple, at least in theory. According to Recharge News, in discharge mode, thousands of tiny iron pellets are exposed to the air, which makes them rust — the iron turns to iron oxide. When the system is charged with an electric current, the oxygen in the rust is removed, and it reverts back to iron.
Form Energy CEO Ted Wiley says, “We have completed the science. What’s left to do is scale up from lab-scale prototypes to grid-scale power plants. At full production, the modules will produce electricity for one-tenth the cost of any technology available today for grid storage.” Wiley says a 300 MW pilot project for Minnesota-based Great River Energy will be commissioned in 2023.
On its website, Form Energy explains its technology this way:
“Each individual battery is about the size of a washing machine. Each of these modules is filled with a water-based, non-flammable electrolyte, similar to the electrolyte used in AA batteries. Inside of the liquid electrolyte are stacks of between 10 and 20 meter-scale cells, which include iron electrodes and air electrodes, the parts of the battery that enable the electrochemical reactions to store and discharge electricity.
“These battery modules are grouped together in modular megawatt-scale power blocks, which comprise thousands of battery modules in an environmentally protected enclosure. Depending on the system size, tens to hundreds of these power blocks will be connected to the electricity grid. For scale, in its least dense configuration, a one megawatt system requires about an acre of land. Higher density configurations can achieve >3MW/acre.
“Our battery systems can be sited anywhere, even in urban areas, to meet utility-scale energy needs. Our batteries complement the function of lithium-ion batteries, allowing for an optimal balance of our technology and lithium-ion batteries to deliver the lowest-cost renewable and reliable electric system year-round.”
Major Financial Backing From ArcelorMittal
Form Energy has received major funding support from Breakthough Energy Ventures, which is funded in part by Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos. But it is also attracting investments from ArcelorMittal, one of the world’s largest steel makers, as well as Italian oil giant Eni and Macquarie Capital. Form has announced a Series D financing round that aims to raise $200 million.
ArcelorMittal announced a further $25 million investment last Thursday. Greg Ludkovsky, global head of research and development for the company, said as part of that announcement, “Form Energy is at the leading edge of developments in the long duration, grid battery storage space. The multi-day energy storage technology they have developed holds exciting potential to overcome the issue of intermittent supply of renewable energy. They are exactly the kind of ambitious and innovative company we are seeking to invest in through our XCarb™ innovation fund.
“In addition to our investment, there are obvious synergies we are exploring with them. These include from ArcelorMittal supplying iron for their battery solutions, through to the potential their batteries hold to deliver us a permanent, reliable supply of renewably generated energy for our steel plants, therefore helping us in our journey to transition to carbon-neutral steel making.”
Is this another in a long line of stories about groundbreaking new battery technology that may or may not ever make it out of the laboratory? Yes, it is. But this one seems to have more meat on its bones than most. ArecelorMittal is not putting up its money on a whim.
The price of solar energy has plunged 90% in the past decade. LED lights were once so weak they could only be seen in darkened rooms. There once was a world without internet or smartphones. Not every invention succeeds in the marketplace, but those that do can transform the world. Is Form Energy one of the winners? “We’ll see,” said the Zen master.