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Released: 07/23/2021, 10:28 am

The big reveal: rendering of a Form Energy iron-air battery storage system. Image: Form energy.

Startup Form Energy has finally released the battery chemistry behind a technology the company claims could eliminate the challenges of integrating renewable energy and supplanting fossil fuels.

Promising that it will enable inexpensive “multi-day” storage of energy, the disclosure has been eagerly awaited since Form Energy signed a contract with Minnesota utility Great River Energy in May 2020 to provide a 1 MW pilot system .

Such a technology could make it very easy to store the variable output of solar and wind generators and to use them as required, which would make the use of fossil fuels practically obsolete. However, the company kept its technology under wraps until yesterday when it also announced it had completed a $ 200 million Series D funding round, led by a $ 25 million investment from the steel and Mining company ArcelorMittal.

“There is overwhelming support for clean energy. Lowering the cost of renewable energy has contributed to its growing appeal; new utility-scale onshore wind and solar systems are now cheaper than traditional energy sources, ”Mateo Jaramillo, CEO of Form Energy, told Energy-Storage.news yesterday.

“If we really want to achieve a clean energy future, we need to have solutions to store inexpensive but intermittent renewable energy for several days.”

In an April 2021 interview for the site, Jaramillo wanted to talk about the company and its goals, but made it clear that the battery chemistry would not be discussed or revealed at this point.

It has now been announced that the company's first commercial product is an iron-air chemical battery. It can store and distribute energy for up to 100 hours at a price competitive with existing thermal power plants and could be up to 10 times cheaper than lithium-ion, claimed Form Energy. The goal is to build large, multi-megawatt, front-of-meter energy storage systems, the equipment of which is manufactured near the location of the systems and uses iron that can also be obtained locally.

According to a data sheet supplied by the company, the basic principle is based on the reversible oxidation (rusting) of iron. When the battery discharges, oxygen in the air turns metallic iron into rust. When charging, the grate is converted back into iron by applying an electric current. The only thing that is emitted in this process is oxygen.

“It is modular, secure and can be placed anywhere on the network. Our technology differs from other energy storage technologies in that it has very inexpensive energy stored, ”said Jaramillo.

He added that while the technology aims to store energy at a much, much lower cost than lithium-ion, the iron-air rechargeable battery is expected to be a complementary technology to lithium rather than its competitor. Together, lithium and iron-air can create “low cost, highly reliable renewable power plants and complete systems”.

“Our technology is not a substitute for lithium-ion. But on the contrary.”

“The ability to make renewable energy available when and where it is needed”

A team of Form Energy experts wrote a guest blog for Energy-Storage.news a few months ago about how extreme weather events like the winter storm in Texas, which caused power outages for several days, increased the need for this type of technology solution in the US and elsewhere, along with a host of other clean energy technologies. CEO Jaramillo reiterated in his exclusive comments on this website today how the continued experience of extreme weather conditions “makes it clearer than ever that we need new, low-cost technologies that can store electricity for several days”.

“Our first commercial product, an iron-air battery, will be able to make renewable energy available anytime, anywhere, even during days of extreme weather or power outages,” he said.

“Due to their extremely low cost, safety, durability and global scalability, iron-air batteries are the best solution to compensate for the multi-day variability of renewable energies.”

While many have tried to solve the problem of making it easier to use variable renewables on the grid with flow batteries – which provide a sturdy, long-lasting, non-degrading device that stores energy between six and 12 hours cheaper than lithium-ion – Jaramillo pointed out that the form iron-air battery is a static solid electrolyte battery, not a flow-through battery that uses liquid.

Form Energy's pilot with Great River Energy in Cambridge, Minnesota, is slated to go live in late 2023, and Jaramillo said his team was working to allow the battery to be used more widely in the following year. The company's most recent $ 200 million investment builds on a $ 70 million Series C that closed in November 2020 and a $ 40 million Series B in 2019.

The CEO said ArcelorMittal's stake through the steel company's XCarb innovation fund was strategically important.

Form and ArcelorMittal have worked together to define “the required specifications for iron as input” for the battery technology, which the two will continue to do while having the opportunity to leverage ArcelorMittal's global supply chain to make the production of materials “in line” to increase with global demand for multi-day storage systems, ”said Jaramillo.

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