A company soon to settle in West Virginia has developed a battery that offers four days of full discharge using some of the cheapest, most available elements on earth.
“They are now building and will soon deliver a next generation battery. It’s based on iron, water and oxygen. You couldn’t imagine a simpler supply chain,” said George Crabtree, a senior scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and leader of the national labs’ efforts to develop next-generation batteries. “It’s sort of universally available everywhere, and get this—it makes a battery that can discharge at full power for four days. Lithium-ion can discharge for four hours.”
Form Energy spun off in 2017 from the Joint Center for Energy Storage Research (JCESR), the government’s 5-year program (now in its tenth year) to build next-generation batteries for power and transportation.
On Thursday, West Virginia Governor Jim Justice revealed that Form Energy will build a factory for the batteries in the city of Wierton, a former steel-producing town in West Virginia’s northern panhandle about 35 miles from Pittsburgh.
Form Energy’s battery operates on the principle of “reversible rusting.”
“While discharging, the battery breathes in oxygen from the air and converts iron metal to rust,” according to Form’s technology page. “While charging, the application of an electrical current converts the rust back to iron, and the battery breathes out oxygen.”
The iron-air battery would be much too large and heavy for mobile uses like a phone or automobile, which is why those are better suited to lithium ion. But size and weight are not such handicaps when it comes to grid storage.
“The problem that we’re trying to solve is this multi-day energy storage problem, and what you care about most is cost,” Form Energy CEO Mateo Jaramillo told Time recently. “We don’t care so much about how much it weighs, or how much space it takes up. That’s why we have selected an entirely different chemistry.”
Form’s battery represents a significant step in the government’s effort to find a battery that can discharge over 10 days—a long enough period to cover cloudy and windless periods that bring renewables to a halt, Crabtree said. But JCESR continues to search for one that will hold a charge even longer than Form’s iron-air battery.
“It’s not 10 days. We’re only halfway there, 40% there,” Crabtree said during a recent lecture at Argonne. “I would say, I think most would agree that among the commercial battery contenders for long duration storage, that Form Energy is the leading one at the moment. They began operations in 2017 and within what, six years, seven years, 2024, they’re gonna be delivering the battery. So, although this is history, these long-time scales, it is possible to do it on a much faster time scale and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Form expects to begin construction on its West Virginia factory next year and begin manufacturing batteries in 2024. The new plant is expected to create a minimum of 750 new full-time jobs and will represent a total investment of up to $760 million.