Form Energy's ultra-cheap iron-air batteries to get $760M factory

Form Energy's ultra-cheap iron-air batteries to get $760M factory
Boston's Form Energy says its iron-air battery systems will provide hundred hour-plus grid-scale energy storage at a tenth the price of lithium "big battery" installations
Boston's Form Energy says its iron-air battery systems will provide hundred hour-plus grid-scale energy storage at a tenth the price of lithium "big battery" installations
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Boston's Form Energy says its iron-air battery systems will provide hundred hour-plus grid-scale energy storage at a tenth the price of lithium "big battery" installations
Boston's Form Energy says its iron-air battery systems will provide hundred hour-plus grid-scale energy storage at a tenth the price of lithium "big battery" installations

One of the most exciting companies in grid-level renewable energy storage – if you're the type to get excited about this kind of thing – is Form Energy, whose innovative iron-air technology promises to outperform lithium "big battery" projects at 10% of the cost. It's preparing to scale up with its first factory.

Form's grid-scale batteries are built around huge flat iron-air cells, about a meter (3.3 ft) square, around 50 of which are slotted into modules the size of a washing machine and bathed in a liquid electrolyte. These cells effectively work using the rust cycle; you charge them up by applying energy to iron oxide, turning it back into metallic iron, then add oxygen to initiate the rust process and release energy.

Iron is cheap and abundant, making these modules extremely affordable. They last a long time, they're safe and they're recyclable; if you tear down a battery you can take the metal out and use it elsewhere. These factors all combine to make them an exceptionally affordable form of energy storage, with a Levelized Cost of Storage (LCoS) more than 10 times lower than lithium batteries, even before you take the expected lithium resource squeeze into account.

They won't charge or discharge as quickly as lithium, of course, so they'll likely work alongside lithium grid batteries in hybrid configurations, the iron-air batteries dealing with longer, slower load demands while the lithium packs handle momentary spikes. Form says that at scale, they'll deliver more than 3 MW of output capacity per acre, and they'll excel where energy needs to be stored for around 100 hours or more.

That's a key vulnerability in any renewable grid; it's the kind of storage you need when there's a terrible storm for several days that drastically cuts solar and wind production. Form's proposition has certainly made a splash with investors; Bill Gates's Breakthrough Energy Ventures has been on board for some time, along with Luxembourg steel giant ArcelorMittal and many others. A Series E investment round dragged in an impressive US$450 million, bringing the company's total funding over US$800 million.

So it's time to go commercial. Last month, the company announced it had chosen a site for its first American battery manufacturing plant: a 55-acre facility in the city of Weirton, West Virginia. The US$760 million project will employ around 750 people, with construction expected to start later this year and the first iron-air batteries to start rolling out in 2024 "for broad commercialization."

Source: Form Energy

Rick O
Need to get a quote to dip my old truck in their electrolyte and convert all the rust....
3MW per acre with a two-dimensional grid. IF you stack them on top of each other like a Garage with 7 to 10 layers you can get that up to 30 MW per acre. Then it becomes very reasonable in terms of space. You could even go up to 20 stories high and then get 60 MW per acre. Since they are 10 times cheaper it would be potentially affordable to stack them like a garage.,
The fact the fastest they can discharge, charge, takes 200 hrs/cycle, 1/wk, means it can't cycle enough to make any money. And low value as most made when needed least.
And anyone who thinks something 10x as heavy can be 10x as cheap, is smoking good stuff. Basic economics says this won't work. Anything that can't discharge in less than 4 hrs, isn't worth doing.
Our lowest cost battery at under $70/kwh OEM, LFP can put out all it's power in 10 minutes, when the highest price is before it goes away. That is where the money is.
Christian Lassen
Jerryd, weight isn't quite as important as rarity/scarcity.

3mw/acre, you can power a lot of homes for that week! A few thousand homes for a year with that much. A few acres could power a decent city during darkness, no wind, or some other event. One cell alone is slow, but a whole lot of cells working together could discharge enough power just nicely.
Not sure about one of the comments here talking about weight vs cost. I'll trade you my 10 ounces lead for your 1 ounce of gold if you think weight must make carry the day in value. And lower discharge speed just means you need more of them to pull enough current. I would guess all the basic economics is already well decided by engineers who have somewhat of a clue at this stage of the product development. Removing the energy density constraint of a mobile battery design does wonders for options.
James Barbour
JerryD, I did not see the 200 hr discharge spec in the article. If so, then the technology is useless. Additionally, if Gates is in, be cautious. After his Ivanpah solar debacle and failure with nuclear fusion innovation, his support is more of a curse then a blessing. There is only one energy solution. Like it or not, nuclear fission power with redundant mesh power grid is the only viable option until fusion (if ever) succeeds. Every high cost dream project enables China to manufacture cheaper using coal generated electricity. When America burned coal, it was relatively clean. Now we export it to China to burn it without emission controls at 30% the cost of our natural gas power generation. This exacerbates greenhouse emissions. At least the tree-huggers feel better believing what isn't so.
The 3MW per acre figure is given to help us understand how much space is needed for a given rate of output (3MW). Yes, this is a slow discharge battery, so for a battery large enough to discharge at a 3MW rate for 100 hours, means the battery capacity is 300MWH (3x100). A LFP battery capable of discharging 3MW for 10 minutes only holds 0.5MWH or 500kWH of electricity. MW and kW are rates, MWH and kWH are quantities. It's like comparing MPH to miles.
LCOS is the overall economic figure used to understand economic viability. It covers everything from construction, to maintenance, to recycling and disposal. The weight of the battery is not relevant for grid storage. Cost of land is included in the LCOS calculation.
This type of battery is meant to compete with pumped hydro, but without the need for a mountain. Large storage for long term shortages in the winter or emergency situations. It does not replace Lithium-ion or LFP for short, quick response times.
This sounds like the kind of thing that might make sense leveling out really long excursions, like weather systems that make wind or solar go away for a week or two, or even seasonal differences. If it's using an iron-air cycle, the self-discharge rate isn't going to be terribly high at all, so once the energy goes in, it can just stay there until it's needed.
@vince, I think they're rated at 1MW per acre but can go up to 3MW per acre, probably by stacking those HEAVY, LIQUID-filled battery boxes. What I can't figure out is why they have no specs on the thing other than those. And "slow delivery", with lithium and wind doing the quick pickups for instant demand.
Loz, maybe you can get a bit more info, and perhaps find out what an acre of their batteries would cost to buy and what it would cost to install, plus any normal specs we expect to see. Danke mucho, Monsieur.
Rob Tillaart
Two questions pop up:
1. Why not build underground?
2. Why aren't there solar panels on the roof?
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