Long term energy storage is all the rage these days, as companies race to find ways to save the energy generated by renewables that will last for 3 to 5 days rather than a few hours. Form Energy is one of those companies. Its efforts are devoted to a commercializing iron air technology it says will send power back to the grid for up to 100 hours. The company claims its technology will cost about one-tenth as much as conventional lithium-ion battery storage.
Can you imagine how that would upend the utility industry? No more methane power peaker plants. No more coal-fired baseload thermal generating stations. No new nuclear power plants. It may seem like science fiction, but this week the company completed a new funding round that raised $450 million from investors such as TPG Rise Climate, a $7.3-billion fund run by veteran private equity firm TPG, Singapore’s GIC, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board. Canary Media calls it “a staggering sum for an unconventional grid storage hardware startup.”
The Series E funding round will allow Form Energy to move out of its current pre-commercial state. The company will double its staff from its current level of 326 employees as it proceeds with validation and testing of its iron-air battery. It needs to gather enough data to convince someone to warranty the device, which is necessary for customers to secure low-cost financing to purchase it.
CEO and co-founder Mateo Jaramillo, who previously was in charge of energy storage products at Tesla, told Canary Media this week, “We expect to be generating meaningful revenue in 2025.” Asked about all the other companies — including Tesla — which are focused on lithium-ion grid storage solutions, he said, “We’re trying to zag while everybody is zigging. Bankability is the threshold that we have to achieve for being able to deploy energy storage systems at large scale.”
The mission at Form Energy is to rebut the tired old critique of renewable energy that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. If the Form Energy battery works as advertised, it will store renewable energy so cheaply that a renewable energy power plant will be able to deliver emissions-free energy around the clock for days on end.
Canary Media says with a wink and a nudge that energy storage investors tend to avoid anything with a whiff of newness about it. “A novel design based on rusting and de-rusting iron is not an obvious darling for the titans of climate finance.” But Form Energy is now graduating out of the venture capital space and drawing growth equity from large institutional investors.
Since its last funding round of $200 million a year ago, Form Energy has completed the design of its battery and is currently making them on a pilot manufacturing line for internal validation purposes. That battery will soon begin shipping to customers. In the meantime, the company has scouted 100 possible sites for its first factory in 16 states and narrowed its search to just three. What it is seeking are great logistics, availability of land, and a strong labor pool, Jaramillo said.
The startup modeled its reliability testing on processes the automotive industry uses to ensure vehicles and all their components are safe enough to put on the road. To oversee this effort, Form Energy hired Paul Hanson, who previously managed validation at Tesla and Bentley. His team is running iron-air batteries through high temperature endurance trials, temperature shocks, excessive humidity, and other scenarios.
As it sprints to market, Form is managing its testing push, ongoing technological improvement, factory build-out, and commercial negotiations more or less simultaneously. In theory, that means that when it completes its validation tasks, it will be able to supply fully warrantied products to its customers. “It all happens in parallel; we don’t have time to do things sequentially,” Jaramillo said. “Our partners are all with us on this parallel journey together.”
The first field deployment will be a 1 MW/150 MWh pilot battery for Great River Energy in Minnesota. Site preparation is underway for that project, which is expected to be completed in 2024. Form Energy will also install iron-air batteries for Georgia Power once regulatory approval is obtained.
Suddenly, long term energy storage is a hot topic. Recently, Energy Dome announced that Danish wind energy company Ørsted will trial its 10-hour storage system at one of its wind turbine installations. ESS is also supplying a 10-hour storage system to the Sacramento Municipal Utility District.
Will any of these novel systems be commercially viable? Let’s hope so. If renewable energy is ever to replace thermal generation that relies on coal, oil, methane, or nuclear, low cost, long term storage will be essential and can’t happen quickly enough.
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